Top pick McNeill has lofty goal

The Blackhawks are hosting their prospects throughout the organization between Thursday and Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Madison St. There will be practices and scrimmages, all open to the public.

No matter the sport, first-round picks get a little more attention than most, at least at the onset of their careers. Center Mark McNeill, the Hawks’ first selection in last month’s NHL draft, is attending his first camp as a Hawk, and he knows eyes are on him.

“First impressions are key on a lot of the coaching staff,” McNeill said. “I have to be playing at my best. My mindset is I’m here to try and make the Chicago Blackhawks.”

Despite the Hawks’ lack of depth at center and at least one opening on their NHL roster, that may not be a realistic possibility for the 18-year-old Edmonton native, who had 32 goals and 49 assists in 70 games with Prince Albert of the WHL last season. Few picked 18th break camp with their NHL team and, besides, draft status doesn’t mean much once they hit the ice.

“Everyone here is on the same level,” McNeill said. “It’s a clean slate. The real work starts now. It has nothing to do with where you got drafted.”

Listed at 6 foot 1, 211 pounds he already towers over Hawks center Marcus Kruger, is bigger than Dave Bolland, and is nearly identical in size to Jonathan Toews. As of late, the Hawks have been lacking in size up the middle.

“I’m a two-way power forward,” McNeill said. “Chip in defensively and hold my own offensively.”

McNeill says he needs to work on his explosiveness, those “first three steps,” but wants to “raise the bar” on all parts of his game. He’s excited to be a Hawk, and it didn’t hurt when Toews sent him a text after being the Hawks’ first pick in the draft.

“It was very kind of him,” McNeill said. “It shows why he’s the captain of this team. His true personality shined right there, for sure.”