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Prospecting for Blues

Blues prospect Hugh McGing (56) collides with Jared Kucharek (68) during the prospect scrimmage on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at the Blues Prospect Camp in the Enterprise Center. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Hugh McGing is a Blues draft pick, taken in the fifth round in 2018, but he grew up and still lives in Chicago when he’s not in college at Western Michigan.

So wearing his Blues cap around the neighborhood during the team’s Stanley Cup run wasn’t always the easiest thing.

“A lot of my friends back home gave me a little kick in the butt about wearing it,” he said, “but I support (the Blues).”

McGing, a forward, is back in prospects camp for the second time, this time coming off a season with 16 goals and 14 assists in 37 games, playing under one-time Blues coach Andy Murray in Kalamazoo.

“He knows so much about the game,” McGing said. “It’s nice to pick his mind about things he knows that will help me in the long run.”

The biggest challenge facing McGing, a rising senior, is something he can’t do much about. He’s only 5-8. The NHL is usually a big man’s league, though players like Alex DeBrincat of Chicago show little guys can make it.

“It just shows that guys our size can have an impact in the league and be one of the top guys for a team like that,” McGing said of DeBrincat. “He’d been told the same exact thing. He went out and proved people wrong. Why can’t I do that?”

To that end, McGing likes the way Tampa Bay’s 5-9 forward Tyler Johnson plays. Johnson had 29 goals this season.

“I think he’s a skilled playmaker but he also plays really hard in the corners,” McGing said. “He’s not afraid to to go up against the big guys, so I like that about him.”

To make that easier to do for McGing, he put on 10 to 15 pounds last season. “I like to play hard so I’ve got to be bigger to do that,” he said.

“I hate playing against him because he’s so shifty, you can’t touch him,” said Casey Gilling, a forward at Miami (Ohio) who is also in the prospects camp. “When we went to Western, our first line center was out, so I was matched up against Hugh. He’s a tough guy to play against. Really good in the faceoff circle.”

McGing will be returning to Western Michigan for one final season.

FREE AGENTS

Along with the Blues’ draft picks who are in town for camp are free agents, some in college, some in juniors, who the Blues have interest in and through the first three days, it’s those players who have done much of the scoring.

On the first day of camp, Gilling, a rising junior at Miami (Ohio) and Ben Copeland, a rising sophomore at Colorado College, each had a hat trick. Both scored again on Thursday. Gilling, a 6-1 center from Gaylord, Mich., had the game-winner in overtime in Thursday’s scrimmage. He said he came to this camp wanting to see if he could compete at this level.

“It’s my first development camp so I want to experience what it’s like to play in the NHL really,” Gilling said. “More to see where I’m at compared to everybody else. I play in the (National Collegiate Hockey Conference), which is a really tough league, so I see that there, but you don’t get to see the OHL players or the overseas players. It’s just like an experience like that to open myself up.

“(I’ve learned) a ton. They told us our first meeting, unlearn everything you knew before. We want you to take advantage of everything you have here. There’s a lot on that list.”

His hat trick showed him he could.

“It was a relief,” he said. “I got a couple of good bounces, obviously. Coming in, you’re nervous, it’s your first camp, and the first one, it was a relief. I know I can play here. I can’t complain about three goals.”

NOTES

Maybe it was because there were five minutes less on the clock for each of the two periods or players were tired because of on-ice testing earlier in the day. But one day after the teams combined for 17 goals, there were just seven goals on Thursday in the most defensive-minded prospects camp scrimmage so far. The White team – Team Tkachuk – defeated the Blue team – Team MacInnis – 4-3 in overtime. Among the goalscorers for the White team were draft picks Nikita Alexandrov and Alexey Toropchenko. … Prospects camp closes Friday night with a final scrimmage at 6 p.m. at Enterprise Center. Admission is free, but tickets need to be requested at stlouisblues.com. … What to drink while watching the St. Louis Blues commemorative video? How about commemorative wine. The Blues on Thursday unveiled a limited-edition wine in partnership with Manos Wine of Kansas City. It’s a Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and Monterey merlot blend that has been aged for 15 months – meaning it started when Ryan O’Reilly was still with Buffalo. There’s also a “Championship Bubbly” if you want to douse a family member. The wines are available at many outlets in St. Louis.

Tom Timmermann is a Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.