A native of Listowel, Ontario, Roland McKeown was the second overall pick in the 2012 Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection by the Kingston Frontenacs. He played his minor midget hockey with the Toronto Marlboros of the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League where he was captain of his team. In 28 games, the defenseman scored 10 goals and added 25 assists.
He made his OHL debut in 2012-2013 with the Frontenacs on September 21, 2012 and registered his first point 2 games later. He finished the season with 7 goals and 22 assists in 61 games, good enough for 18th among rookies and tops among rookie defensemen.
He also played and was alternate captain for Team Ontario at the World Hockey Challenge Under 17 where he notched 3 assists in 5 games as his club finished sixth in the tournament. McKeown was also a member of the gold medal winning Team Canada at the World Junior Championships Under 18 in Sochi Russia where he notched an assist in 7 games as an underage player.
Already with plenty of international experience, McKeown was invited to Team Canada’s selection camp for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. McKeown made the team out of camp and registered one assists in 5 games and helped Canada win their sixth consecutive gold medal at the tournament.
The 6’1 and 185 pound defenseman is an exceptional skater with an offensive gift. He’s not overly physical and his skating and positioning along with his hockey sense allows him to be solid defensively. Offensively, his skating allows him to carry the puck but he also uses his hockey smarts to make an excellent first pass. He has an above average shot that usually finds his target.
He’s described by many as a franchise player at the junior level – a player you build your team around. It should be a great battle between McKeown and Aaron Ekblad as the number 1 defenseman to be drafted at the NHL Draft.
We had the opportunity to speak with Frontenac’s head scout Jeff McKercher:
ITO: There is no question Roland is an excellent skater who possesses extraordinary offensive abilities. How has his defensive game developed?
McKercher: Roland's really improved his defensive game as you can see by his +9 rating right now but I think the biggest thing for him is he got a lot stronger over the summer and this has really helped him out. Let’s face it, it’s tough for any 16yr old to come into our league and then we ask him to play 20 plus minutes a night against quite often the other team's top lines like he did last year. You won't find many 16yr olds that can do what he did. He's really taken his defensive game to another level and it’s been good to see.
ITO: Besides his skating abilities, what would you say his greatest asset is and what would be the one thing he needs to work on?
McKercher: I think just the way he sees the ice, especially on the powerplay. He always makes a good quick first pass out of our zone as well and those types of all around defensemen are very tough to find. When he's on the ice we spend a lot less time on our zone. He's also got a cannon for a slap shot and I think if anything, this might be something we'd like to see him use a little more. Other than that, like all defensemen he just needs to get stronger but he's such a good kid and committed off the ice that we know this won't be a problem in time.
ITO: With a young and talented roster in Kingston and NHL scouts also following potential first round picks Spencer Watson and Sam Bennett as well, is there any added pressure on Roland and how do you think he will handle it?
McKercher: There's always pressure in someone's draft year whether they admit it or not, its how you react to it and perform on the ice that sets players apart and like I mentioned before, Roland's a real character kid and I don't see him having any problems handling it. It's a long year so with any year there are always ups and downs. The fact that all these kids are good friends helps a lot as well and they're all going through the same thing. This should be an exciting time, we have a good team so let the draft take care of itself, don't let it bother you. It's what you do when you get your opportunity that counts.
ITO: The OHL has an excellent defensive crop for the 2014 NHL Draft and Roland is right near the top. The NHL has seemed to steer away from taking a defenseman with the first pick. Is there any advice you would give a player like Roland, who while they say they might not think about the draft, it's always in the back of their minds?
McKercher: Just stick to the game plan and play the game, compete every shift. Let all the other stuff take care of itself, I've been through it myself in my draft year and I look back at it now and wonder why I was so concerned about rankings etc. He's going to get his opportunity and if he ever needs advice or wants to talk he's got a guy with over a 1,000 games in the NHL as a D-man behind the bench who can steer him in the right direction.
And the last point McKercher made says it all. With a coach of Todd Gill’s experience behind the bench, who has proven early on in his OHL career that he brings out the best defensively out of his players, McKeown’s two way game will be near the top of his class.