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Rock ink McMullen, Mullins

Timmins Rock coach Corey Beer welcomes 2002-birth-year forward Keegan McMullen to the fold at the Campus Ice Centre & Field House in Oshawa on Sunday. McMullen is one of seven players the Rock signed following a two-day prospect camp in the southern Ontario city. The team has announced his signing and that of fellow forward Maxime Piquette and defenceman Connor Mullins, but the identities of the others can’t be released, however, until their contracts have cleared the Hockey Canada registry. SUBMITTED PHOTO


By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)


TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have officially announced the signing of two more players from the team’s recent prospect camp in Oshawa.

Forward Keegan McMullen and blue-liner Connor Mullins are the newest member of what the Rock hope will be a championship NOJHL roster in 2018-19.

The signing of forward Maxime Piquette was announced earlier this week and the team is still waiting for the contracts of four additional players to clear the Hockey Canada registry.

McMullen (33, 6-14-20, 50) is a 2002-birth-year forward from Cambridge who spent the past season playing for the Cambridge Hawks Minor Midget ‘AAA’ squad in the AHMMPL.

“Keegan was the last pick in the OHL Priority Selection (300th overall, in the 15th round by the Peterborough Petes), but as we know, the OHL draft is a bit of a crap shoot,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“He is just a 2002, but in the first couple of skates we had a couple of veteran guys out there and they were asking who this kid was.

“He certainly plays nothing like a 2002. He has a high-end skill set. He is a very fast skater and he is going to be a very impactful scorer at the Junior ‘A’ level and we are very excited to have him on our team.

“It might say 16 on his birth certificate, but he is going to play much above his age. He definitely is going to be a dynamic scorer and a guy who can play on our power play and help generate points that way.

“When you are picking young players, you always want to make sure you are picking the right ones and he is definitely a high-end prospect.

“For us to be able to keep him away from Junior ‘B’ or the OJHL is definitely a feather in our cap.”

At 6-0 and 168 pounds, McMullen has decent size for a player his age and he was pleased with the way things went at the Rock’s prospect camp.

“Things went pretty well down there and I thought I played pretty good,” McMullen said.

“I got to meet a couple of the guys who were on the team last year, as well as some of the other guys who signed out of camp, so that’s pretty good.”

Prior to camp, McMullen knew one of the players the Rock signed earlier in the off season, defenceman Carson Burlington.

“I played on a team with him a couple of years ago and I will be billeting with him in Timmins,” he said.

Another Petes’ draft pick, Jake Partridge, had pretty good success last season with the NOJHL’s Rayside-Balfour Canadians.

“It’s nice to see he was able to have success there,” McMullen said.

The forward knows there will be an adjustment making the jump from the AHMMPL to the NOJHL.

“The league I came from was a very hard-working league, maybe not as skilled,” McMullen said.

“I know the NOJHL is going to be a tough league to play in because the guys are bigger and will be harder to play against.”

McMullen describes himself as a gritty playmaker who sees the ice very well.

“I always give it my all every shift and I like to get to the dirty areas of the ice,” he said.

“Growing up, I tried to pattern my game after guys like (Detroit Red Wings forward) Dylan Larkin and (Montreal Canadiens forward) Brendan Gallagher.

“Larkin is a very fast, skilled guy, maybe not as big, while Gallagher is a hard worker who likes to get to the dirty areas of the ice.”

McMullen has not had the opportunity to visit Timmins in the past, although he is familiar with part of Northern Ontario.

“I have been to Thunder Bay in the past,” he said.

The message from the Rock coaching staff to McMullen is similar to the one given to all of his new teammates.

“Obviously, I have got to get bigger and stronger,” he said.

“Other than that, I hope to work on my confidence with the puck a little bit.”

McMullen and his new teammates will be arriving in Timmins in time for the team’s third-annual 4-Person Scramble at the Hollinger Golf Club.

“I am alright,” he said.

“I get out a little bit, but I am maybe not the best golfer.”

McMullen, of course, is looking forward to the opportunity of getting to meet three former NHL stars (Billy Smith, Kevin Stevens and Shayne Corson) at the event.

“That’s going to be awesome,” he said.

Mullins, a 1998-birth-year defender, is in his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey and he is looking forward to spending it with the rock after splitting the 2017-18 campaign between three WSHL teams — the El Paso Rhinos (7, 2-2-4, 2), the Long Beach Bombers (16, 1-7-8, 4) and the Valencia Flyers (3, 0-1-1, 0).

“Connor is well travelled but we were absolutely ecstatic to be able to grab him,” Beer said.

“He is a tremendous skater who is very close to the mold of a (former Rock blue-liner now playing with the in the Rimouski Océanic, of the QMJHL) Josh Anderson.

“Those two are actually friends and he came to us through a reference from Josh’s dad, Bob Anderson.

“Connor is the type of guy who is going to be able to come in and play great minutes for us, quarterback the power play. He is a very smooth player.

“It doesn’t matter who he is going to be playing with, a young guy, or a stay-at-home guy. He is going to go out there and play his game.

“We really think he is going to be a special player for us. Even though he is going to be 20 and this will be his last year, we think the impact he will have on our team, in our defence group, is going to be very big.”

Like McMullen, Mullins enjoyed his time at the Rock prospect camp and liked what he saw from the organization.

“I had a really good weekend,” he said.

“Corey and the GM (Kevin Peever) both seem like really great guys. I think I really fit into their system very well as an offensive defenceman.

“When they offered me the spot on the team, I was ecstatic.”

Mullins, a Toronto native who will turn 20 one day before the start of the Rock camp on Aug. 20, used to play with Anderson back when they were both playing major midget hockey.

“I have the offensive skill of a forward, but I can play defence, as well,” he said.

“I am reliable one-on-one, especially in the corners. I like to play physical, but I also bring a high offensive ability to the table, as well.

“I can run the top of the power play, I can be the quarterback of the power play and from what I understand that is the kind of player they are really looking for out there.”

Unlike many players, there was really nobody in the NHL that Mullins tried to patter his game after when he was growing up.

“Now, I watch a lot of highlights of when Bobby Orr used to play and he is my favourite player,” he said.

“To be honest, before I always tried to model my game after (Pittsburgh Penguins forward) Sidney Crosby. I would say he is the best player in the corners.

“I also like the way (Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman) Jake Gardner plays. I know a lot of people don’t like him. I also like (Los Angeles Kings defenceman) Drew Doughty, (Ottawa Senators defenceman) Erik Karlsson and all those guys.”

In addition to Anderson, another player Mullins is familiar with, Powassan Voodoos forward Tyson Gilmour, has found success in the NOJHL.

“I don’t really know him as a friend, but I know of him,” he said.

Given the rivalry between the Rock and Voodoos, it might be a good thing that the two are not friends.

“I also trained with (current Rock defenceman) Will Caston for a bit,” Mullins said.

“I also know (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners forward) Sam Ellwood.”

Like McMullen, Mullins has never been to Timmins before but he is looking forward to getting to know the city and the Rock fans.

“I talked to Josh’s dad about how much he enjoyed playing in Timmins,” he said.

“His billet situation was awesome, he really loved the community and all the fans who come out to the home games.”

Given the time he spent in the WSHL, Mullins does not expect the transition to the NOJHL to be too difficult.

“I would say the WSHL gets a bad rep,” he said.

“It is a Tier III Junior ‘A’ league in the United States and I think the top six or eight teams could definitely compete against Canadian Junior ‘A’ teams.

“So, I don’t think I am going to have a hard time transitioning.”

Mullins doesn’t really consider himself much of a golfer, but he is looking forward to getting to meet some former NHL players at the team’s tournament prior to the start of training camp.

“I really haven’t golfed in a while,” he said.

“I am good off the tee, but not a great putter. So, I will have to put some work in over the summer.

“It is always nice to meet players who have been through it all and who have played at the highest level.”

Mullins, of course, is looking forward to getting to know the rest of his new teammates, as well.

“I will be one of the older guys on the team this year, so I am looking to take a leadership role,” he said.

“Hopefully, I can mentor some of the younger guys on the team.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO Timmins Rock coach Corey Beer greets new defenceman Connor Mullins following the conclusion of the NOJHL team’s prospect camp at the Campus Ice Centre & Field House in Oshawa on Sunday. Mullins is one of seven players the Rock opted to sign following the completion of the two-day camp.