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Big Nasty In British Columbia: Chatting With Kris Baker About Brayden McNabb

04/28/11
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The Kootenay Ice are on a ridiculous march toward the Chynoweth Cup, having won 11 straight playoff games on their way to the finals. Leading this seemingly-unstoppable machine is their Swiss army knife of a captain, 20-year-old Sabres prospect Brayden McNabb.

I recently had a chat with Kris Baker, the head honcho at Sabres Prospects, about McNabb. After the jump, we talk about how he’s advanced, how he compares to his former teammate Tyler Myers, the records he’s set this season, and more!

(As always, BBG questions are bolded and responses are in italics)

What, if anything, has Brayden McNabb done with his game that’s resulted in his and the Ice’s tear through the Chynoweth Cup playoffs so far?

If I break him down top-to-bottom now vs two years ago (check out the 2009 Draft Preview), the one skill that McNabb has improved the most is his skating. He was never a turnstile, but the U18s that spring did bring to light minor concerns handling speed when going backwards. Two years later he look stronger on his skates and a smidge quicker. At 6’4, 220-ish, getting better with his feet has made him quite the valuable shutdown piece.

Looking at the playoffs though, this performance isn’t because of his skating. It’s a function of confidence from experience. McNabb has logged ridiculous minutes for two years straight on the ICE blueline, including the #1 PK and PP units. There isn’t a junior hockey play that he hasn’t seen. Factor in his NHL pre-season time and Team Canada Selection Camp, and here’s a physical guy who’s been going against a high-level of competition all year long. He’s a dominant 20-year old veteran logging thirty minutes every night just like Ryan Ellis did for Windsor. The key is that he’s doing so while staying out of the box (only seven minors before his fight in clincher over Medicine Hat). That’s huge.

What franchise records has McNabb set or tied this postseason? Also, to rehash, what franchise marks did McNabb set in the regular season?

Playoffs:
- points for a defensemen in a playoff season (20)
- career playoff defenseman points (30)
- consecutive playoff games with an assist (9)
- assists by a defenseman in one playoff season (17)
*tied for consecutive games with a point (9)
*tied for points by defenseman in playoff game (3)

Regular season
- career points for defenseman (176)
- career goals for defenseman (50)
- career assists for defenseman (126)
- career games played by defenseman (256)
- single season goals for defenseman (21)
- single season assists for defenseman (51)
- single season points for defenseman (71)

The Tyler Myers discussion amongst prospect-minded Sabres fans is inevitable. What’s the difference between the two big defensemen and former prep school partners?

McNabb is the more aggressive of the two. He’s closer to a Mike Weber in his own zone, pushing out of the crease, hacking and whacking guys, etc. I tend to think Weber actually gets around better, which leads into the next difference…

Despite the fact that McNabb is a certified points machine in the WHL, Myers’ long, smooth stride clearly makes him the more natural offensive starter. McNabb has excellent vision in the attacking zone, getting lots of shots through and using slap passes when lanes are jammed, but he’s generally slower to move it up ice and shouldn’t be looked to as a primary lugger when he turns pro.

McNabb is an absolute lock for the Portland Pirates going into next season. I know you don’t cover the Pirates much, but where do you see him slotting in on Portland’s blueline and where in the call-up depth chart do you see him sitting?

I don’t cover the Pirates but am definitely engaged in the farm happenings. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that McNabb gets positioned near the top of the call-up totem pole next winter after proving adjusted in the fall. Persson, Schiestel, Brennan, Biega represent quality guys to compete with while he’s pacing himself against the increased speed, skill, and strength of the pros. The Sabres like to make guys earn it, but McNabb’s all-around game should translate well as long as he keeps it simple in his own end, limits his turnovers, and maintains his ornery edge.

The Kootenay Ice are already the Eastern Conference’s representatives in the Chynoweth Cup finals. Give me a quick scouting report on the Spokane Chiefs and Portland Winterhawks, including what Brayden McNabb’s assignments and duties might entail against each team.

I’ll start with Spokane. They’re a hard-working, well-coached bunch. They had the league’s top PP in the regular season, spearheaded on the backend by Brenden Kichton (had more points than McNabb in regular season) and Jared Cowen, a 6’5, 220+ lb. Sens pick who is their true backbone. They have a pretty good mix of forwards that goes three lines deep and gave Matt MacKenzie’s Tri-City Americans fits with their tight-checking, defensive style in the conference semifinal.

Portland boasts a pretty impressive balance of skill and grit that not many can match. A trio of 2010 NHL draft picks – Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen, and super pest Brad Ross – man the top line, while a pair of highly rated 2011 prospects, Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi, provide additional fire power. When this team added high scoring pivot Craig Cunningham from Vancouver, you knew they were ready for a deep run. Sabres prospect Riley Boychuk provides a lot of muscle in his power forward role. He hits hard and can finish plays down low. He’s a real good player to have for a team trying to get to the Memorial Cup.

It’s clear he’d draw the Nino-Johansen assignment against Portland, which could be a test for his his defensive skills, toughness, and discipline. McNabb is going to have to swallow that rush while maintaining a nasty edge, and do it without getting sucked into Ross’ vortex. The ICE will rely on McNabb as a calm, controlling influence to match the talented Winterhawks, and I’d expect a very physical series with it likely being decided by goaltending.

A matchup with the Chiefs would likely see him use his size to disrupt the flow of their smaller scoring forwards. Wear guys down, lots of leaning and pushing the play to the perimeter. Tyler Johnson and Levko Koper work well together with Blake Gal a pretty good support guy, but seeing McNabb render Brayden Schenn and Curtis Hamilton ineffective in the ICE’s sweep of Saskatoon makes you think he’d be up to the task against the Chiefs.

A Kootenay-Portland match-up would be highly entertaining. I’d have blood shot eyes every morning at work, but it’d be well worth the late night viewing…

With the Sabres season officially over following dressing room clean-out day, all attention is on the draft. Being held this year at the home of the Minnesota Wild, the X-Cel Energy Center, Kris will be in attendance as per usual. Leading up to the big day, keep up-to-date with prospect profiles and mock drafts by hanging out at…

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