Everyone’s excited about Bryce McConnell-Barker, and for good reason.
On the ice, the 16-year-old centreman boasts a lethal shot, superb vision, great speed and impressive motor skills.
Off the ice, he prides himself on his standout work ethic and positive attitude.
“I always come to the rink with a positive attitude,” said the highly-anticipated Soo Greyhounds pick from his London home. “I’m happy to be on the ice, it’s what I love doing. That energy then revolves around the whole team. I think I get everyone pretty excited to go play hockey.”
He hasn’t shared the ice with his new teammates yet, but that infectious attitude has already gone a long way with the Greyhounds organization. In fact, it’s something GM Kyle Raftis caught wind of a long time ago.
“When you talk to anyone who has played with him, you get rave reviews from everybody. When you talk to players he’s played against, they reference how tough he was to play against,” Raftis said. “He was a great teammate as well and his coaches couldn’t say enough good things about him and it wasn’t just because he was one of their better players; he’s one of the guys they like having in the room. When you combine that with the on-ice product, it’s something we’re excited about.”
Following their 2019-20 ninth place finish, the Greyhounds selected McConnell-Barker fourth overall at the 2020 OHL Priority Selection last April. The 6-foot-2 forward produced 30 goals and 19 assists in 33 games with the London Jr. Knights over the 2019-20 campaign and was recognized as the Alliance’s top player.
“With a player like Bryce, when we can grab that future centreman that has great speed and the competitive motor that he has…it’s something that, no matter who’s coaching your team, is very difficult to develop if a player doesn’t already have it,” said Raftis.
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has kept the team from meeting in person and skating together, the Greyhounds have been meeting weekly on Zoom for a mixture of hockey-related discussions, guest speaker presentations and lighthearted conversation.
“With Bryce, what I’ve noticed is, given the unconventional way of meeting his teammates, he’s shown an extraordinary amount of confidence for his age. His willingness to contribute to the group conversations, to add his two cents and his input, shows a maturity and an enthusiasm beyond his years,” added head coach John Dean. “It’s been nice because he’s been embraced by the guys through those Zoom calls and you can tell he feels comfortable to offer his personality up to the group. it’s been really neat to see him develop that way already over Zoom.”
Over the course of the offseason where possible, McConnell-Barker trained at The Training Station in London with Jeff Van Damme; the same spot where NHL players including Corey Perry, Drew Doughty, Logan Couture and fellow Greyhounds product Jared McCann also spent time. He’s added about 20 pounds in the gym since the conclusion of the minor midget season and feels physically ready to hit the ice when he gets the green light. Mentally, he’s remained determined and positive.
“At all times, I’m just always working hard, whether it’s in practice or in the gym,” he said of his work ethic. “I’m always working hard, and then behind the scenes I’m always trying to better myself. I always put 110% in whatever I’m doing.”
The 2004-born forward also describes himself as a strong all-around player. While acknowledging the difficulty of the jump to junior hockey, he’s confident in his ability to fit in and play a versatile role up front where necessary.
“If the coaches give me a role, I’m willing to take that role. I’m willing to do everything to help the team succeed and win,” he said. “This is a big jump so the players are going to be a lot better. I’m going to be playing with some great players and playing against great players as well.”
Though he hasn’t had the opportunity to put those highly-touted offensive skills on display just yet, his confidence and enthusiasm has continued to shine through immensely during those weekly Zoom calls.
“He has an educated hockey mind and he has thoughts on how the game should be played and he’s not shy to articulate those thoughts,” Dean continued. “He’s not afraid to integrate with the group and show off his personality and do some of the more fun things on the Zoom calls as well. It’s been nice to see he has that confidence and that enthusiasm and that he’s able to bring out his personality.”
When players get the go-ahead for the 2020-21 OHL season, Raftis has no doubt McConnell-Barker will make an immediate impact.
“It’s been difficult for everybody with facilities shut down but the hunger is there and I think he’ll be ready to go when everyone gets the okay,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how excited we are to get him on the ice.”
And while his excitement level ahead of his OHL rookie season is still at an all-time high, admittedly, the reality of his dream come true hasn’t sunk in just yet.
“I think we have to really get into the season and then it will all just come together,” he said. “I’m just itching to go down there and meet the teammates, the staff, and the community. I’m just really excited to start playing.”