Ducks Camp Notebook: McLaughlin Makes Preseason DebutSep 29, 2022
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
ANAHEIM, CA -- Blake McLaughlin admitted he felt the nerves before last night’s preseason debut with the Anaheim Ducks.
"I had a phone call with my brother today and I was like, 'I haven't been nervous for a game in three years,'" the rookie forward said following the Ducks 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center. "Got up here and (thought), 'Well, going on an NHL sheet, throwing on an NHL jersey.' It was pretty surreal but pretty nerve-wracking, for sure."
He shook the nerves to show off his play-making ability in the third period, collecting the primary assist on a key insurance marker.
"I think it was (Anaheim Ducks defenseman) Cam (Fowler), he pulled up on the blue line and made a great play," McLaughlin said. "I was kind of calling for it and ran out of options. I saw (Anaheim Ducks center Isac) Lundy (Lundestrom) in the middle, and he was able to get a nice shot off and it ended up in the net."
Anaheim’s third-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft continues to soak up the valuable National Hockey League experience in his first professional training camp since joining the organization. The right wing finished an outstanding four-year career with the University of Minnesota last season, scoring 13-20=33 points in 39 games, establishing single-season career highs in goals, assists and points while helping the Golden Gophers to the Frozen Four. He was a 2021-22 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention after ranking tied for second among Minnesota leaders and seventh among all Big Ten skaters in points.
He finished his collegiate career with 38-67=105 points in 148 games before signing a two-year, entry-level contract with Anaheim on April 10. As part of the agreement, McLaughlin joined the San Diego Gulls on an Amateur Tryout (ATO), where he scored one goal in seven regular-season American Hockey League contests. He added an assist in two Calder Cup Playoffs games.
"Obviously, a lot different," McLaughlin said about training camp. "When you get to college, you have a set team, right? Coming here, training camp is a little overwhelming. First day you get there, there's 60-or-70 guys all competing for the 20-24 spots on the team. It was just a lot different. A lot of things I had to learn and being a sponge from the older guys, just trying to learn what they did their rookie years and take what they give you."
The experience with San Diego helped with the transition, providing a newcomer the chance to see familiar faces and feel comfort in an unfamiliar situation.
"Getting acclimated with all the guys made it a lot easier for me coming out here and, you know, making a few friends so you're comfortable out here and have a few guys to hang out with after the rink," he explained. "You're done at two-three o'clock, so you have a lot of time to relax. It's nice to know some of the guys and go out to lunch, dinner and just hang out."
As camp continues to forge ahead – and the Ducks continue to trim their roster – McLaughlin feels the intensity climbing.
"Obviously, everyone is competing for the spots, but we're all teammates," he said. "We're not going to go out and light each other up at center ice or anything like that. You're battling your butt off every day, just trying to make your statement out there, impress the coaches and the staff and get recognized out there."
TRACEY WORKS TO IMPROVE HIS SHOT
Following a solid rookie season in San Diego, Brayden Tracey returned home with one mantra to guide his offseason training – bigger, stronger, faster.
"For me, those are the (biggest) three things," he recently explained. "I know that's probably what everyone says, but it's actually really important. Once you play your first year of pro, you realize how big guys are, how quick guys are, how they compete. That's something I took back and tried to bring my intensity to another level.
"My trainers back home did an awesome job this summer. I think they pushed me to the max. I think it's just all that explosiveness in the gym - jumping, running, sprinting. Anything you do to be a pro, you have to do it at your best. No matter what we were doing this summer, whether on the ice or off, it was 100% all the time."
Tracey enters camp after establishing career highs in goals, assists and points with 11-20=31 points, while setting career marks in games played (55), power-play assists (3), power-play goals (2), power-play points (5), shots (70) and shooting percentage (15.7%). The Calgary native also made his NHL debut on Jan. 9 against the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center.
The whirlwind season brought plenty of new lessons, including an important one – the need for Tracey to improve his shot.
"My shot is kind of something that's underestimated, and I've just been practicing all summer on that," Tracey said. "I missed a lot of good chances last year and even the year before, when I got my feet wet in the AHL. That was my main priority, other than getting bigger, faster and stronger. I just kind of have to prove that and keep shooting the puck."
Asked to dive into specifics, the 29th overall selection of the 2019 NHL Draft identified a quicker release to make sure he could funnel pucks on net.
"Guys with sticks on pucks are really fast in professional (hockey)," he said. "It's a big jump from junior to pro in that regard. You kind of have more time in junior to get that puck off your stick as fast as you can."
Tracey also spent a majority of last season playing in front of the net, an area he admitted he rarely found himself playing during his junior career in Moose Jaw and Victoria. Former Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard tasked the 6-0, 186 lbs. forward with getting to that prized real estate to make an impact.
"I learned a lot being in front, seeing the ice and how the rebounds came off the goalie," he explained. "Being around the net is where you score goals. I learned that a lot last year and I hope to get a few more of those this year."
Now in his second camp, Tracey admits he feels more comfortable in the intense environment. There’s familiar faces from his time in San Diego and established relationships with those up and down the organization. It’s helped him settle in and focus on his goal – competing for a spot on Anaheim’s opening night roster.
"It's been a grind," he said. "I think there's a lot of guys competing for spots here, and that's just what you got to do. Come in what professional attitude, that compete and intensity, is something you have to do every day.
"At the end of the year meeting last year, they really described to me what I had to do. This summer, I really pushed towards it. I was battling 100% of the time trying to be the best I can be. I have to come in here and show them what I got."