Reid McNeill A Rare Breed Amongst Pens Defensemen

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Reid McNeill means business heading into the 2014-15 season. Photo credit: @ItsJacki.
"I know I'm not an offensive guy, but it's something I take pride in. "It sets myself apart from all the other guys," Penguins stay-at-home defensive prospect Reid McNeill said at the Pens annual development camp in July.

Reid McNeill's style of play doesn't often garner the spotlight that the highly-touted offensive defensemen in the Penguins system shine under, but he's got a unique skill set and embraced his role with much success last season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

"You look at the depth chart and there's a lot of first round offensive defenseman," McNeill said. "So definitely having that physical presence and being able to add that different element in my game is something that I can set myself apart from the offensive skilled guys. I think the biggest part of my year was just finding the role that I can play in this organization and really building confidence in my game."

After spending most of the 2012-13 season - his first as a pro - with the Penguins ECHL affiliate in Wheeling, McNeill was a solid defensive defenseman last season in the AHL. In 55 regular season games last season, McNeill tallied a goal (his first AHL goal) and four assists to go along with a plus nine rating and 119 penalty minutes.

In the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, McNeill was assigned the task of being on the AHL Pens' shutdown defense pairing with Simon Despres going up against the opponents' top offensive stars before an injury in the second round caused McNeill to miss the rest of the postseason.

His willingness to engage opponents physically with punishing body checks in all areas of the ice certainly adds an element not always present in either the NHL or AHL rosters in the Penguins organization. McNeill is big at 6-4 and just over 200 pounds, is physical and uses his long reach well in the defensive zone to break up the play. McNeill was a staple of the Pens' penalty kill last season.

"I knew I wanted to come in and have more of a physical presence," McNeill said. "If you look at the depth chart on that back end of the roster there aren't too many guys that have that physical style of game."

McNeill has been training each of the last two summers under Gary Roberts and like his trainer, has had to work for everything he has accomplished to this point. 

"He pushes you a lot," McNeill said of Roberts. "I've learned a lot from him and how hard he works."

This summer, McNeill will continue to do Roberts' training program back home in London, Ontario with Penguins teammate Scott Harrington while treking to Toronto to see Roberts every few weeks.

As for what the future brings, McNeill isn't changing much about his offseason plans. He wants to show he is a reliable shutdown defender at the AHL level and impress upon the NHL staff and management that he can prove to be an asset to the NHL club in the very near future.

"I'm going to keep working, keep developing my game. That's the goal this year. I really want to make a statement, come in September and turn some heads."

McNeill was without a doubt one of the bigger bodies on the team last season. He was the biggest hitter on the ice for the AHL Penguins and didn't shy away when the time came to drop the gloves.

This could be a turning point in the 22-year-old's hockey career, entering his third pro season in the fall after next week's rookie camp and subsequent main training camp.

"I'm going to continue to work out and get bigger and stronger and come September I'm just gonna let my play do all the work."

I can only imagine that means we will be seeing more punishing hip checks in 2014-15.


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