Thursday, September 23, 2010

McRae making strong push during Blues camp

Son of former Blue is one of top
prospects, making favorable impression

ST. LOUIS -- Blues prospect Philip McRae was just a toddler at the time, watching his Dad Basil play for the Blues in the early to mid-1990s.

McRae, a highly-touted Blues prospect, admitted even at such a young age, he was a rink rat. And who could blame him? Some of Dad's teammates were household, star-like names. They were idols to many.

"I always hung out around the locker room and meeting Brett Hull and Curtis Joseph was probably the coolest part about having a dad that played," Philip McRae said.

Imagine being able to laugh, giggle and be a kid with Brett Hull, Curtis Joseph and Brendan Shanahan playfully going along. One is a Hall of Famer, while the other two have legitimate opportunities to be. Those are memories a kid can take with them for the rest of their lives.

It would certainly give a kid the desire to want to be a hockey player himself. McRae was no exception.

"I've always loved the game of hockey," McRae said. "Every boy who plays hockey, his dream is to play in the NHL one day."

McRae has certainly embarked on that journey, and in his second training camp with the Blues after being drafted in the second round (33rd overall) in 2008, people are taking notice of McRae's stock. And it's spiking higher than a successful Wall Street day.

A product of one season at CBC High School, McRae, 20, is one of the prospects that has raised a few eyebrows that has garnered a few extra looks.

"I think (camp's) been pretty good so far," said McRae, who scored the Blues' first goal in Wednesday night's 5-1 win at Minnesota. "I was in the main camp last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. I've just been trying to work hard. I'm going to do everything I can."

McRae, who has played for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League the past four seasons -- a team that his father is currently a part owner of and played for in the late 70's and early 80's -- has certainly gotten the attention of his teammates.

He's been primarily playing with Brad Boyes and David Perron in camp and developed some nice chemistry.

McRae helped set Boyes up for a nice goal during the Blue-Gold scrimmage Sunday, then was able to snipe home a goal from a sharp angle Wednesday.

It's a safe bet to say Philip's hands are a touch softer than Basil, who made a living in the league playing the enforcer role.

"It's good to see the potential that he's got. He's got some great vision out there and he seems to read the play," Boyes said of McRae. "He's got that offensive knack; he's got great hands.

"If you've got a guy like that in the middle who's got decent size and can move and can handle the puck and make plays like that is encouraging. I love to play with him. Early on, we got on the same page and that makes it easier."

McRae, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, could benefit from a bit more muscle to play at the NHL level. His frame can certainly absorb more muscle mass. That's why this past summer was important to do some extra work with the fitness and strength.

"Over the summer, I really worked hard on my strength and speed," said McRae, who tallied 11 goals and 37 points in 33 games for London a season ago. "Everyone's so much bigger, faster and stronger (in the NHL). In the OHL, the oldest players are 20, 21 years old and you're playing against men up here. The game is just a lot faster. You have to make plays that much quicker."

McRae is adjusting accordingly, which bodes well for a franchise that can benefit from the development of a solid center within the organization.

"He's a young guy that's got a really good shot and good hands," Perron said. "He's got good hockey sense.

"Every year he's getting better, every year he's getting more confident and I think that’s the big thing," Perron said. "At least for me, coming into the league you have to be really confident in your own skills. I'd say two years ago he wasn't there as much in terms of confidence because he was always asking if he was doing the right thing or not. I told him, 'You’re a real good hockey player. Just do what you do out there and you'll be fine.'"

McRae won't hide from the fact that both Boyes and Perron have been helpful.

"They're always talking to me and helping me out in drills and things like that," he said. "They're letting me know if they want me to do things differently and things like that. They've been really good to play with and they're obviously very talented players and that helps."

Depending on what happens from here on out, McRae will certainly be on the Blues' radar as far as playing in the organization -- specifically here.

Depending on what happens with injuries, he could play a prominent role with the Blues in the very near future, but his goal is to be here as quickly as possible.

"I think there's a lot of upside to him," Boyes said of McRae. "He's a great kid and he listens. He goes out there, works hard and that's a big positive."

"I've been working hard and trying to do whatever I can to be here as long as I can," McRae said.

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