Flash back to February of last season. A bus from Worcester to Bridgeport carries a brigade of AHL players-- has-beens, longshots, and up-and comers all plugging along, playing the game they were born to play. The only profession they have ever known. Just another grueling minor league road trip for the assorted individuals as they attempt to land their big break and play their way into the big show. A water bottle hits McGinn in the face, and the huge hands of fellow teammaterattle the sleep off McGinn's weary eyelids.
The call had come from Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan. He is needed once again.
Stepping off the bus into no-man's land somewhere near Hartford, Connecticut wearing nothing but a track suit and a few assorted belongings for the trip, McGinn eventually gets a flight to San Jose where he is forced to borrow clothes to comply with the organization's dress code. A suit fromhere, shoes from there, and McGinn is ready to play in the most competitive and grueling hockey league in the entire world.
It was one of the twenty two trips McGinn made last season, bouncing back and forth from San Jose and Worcester on a transaction shuttle that allowed the Sharks to accrue enough cap space to land defensemanat the trade deadline. A process that obviously came along with its share of tribulations and triumphs, its share of fatigue and fortune.
"It gets tough sometimes to fly across the country and play in the best league in the world, but you get it done," McGinn told Fear The Fin last year. "You play on that adrenaline and do anything you can to stay up there for as long as you can, hopefully forever."
This season it's likely McGinn won't be subjected to the same schedule of demotion and promotion that made carrying a pillow in his equipment bag a near necessity. He has currently found himself in a third-line role with the Sharks, one that will be important for the team if they wish to receive the necessary scoring depth to win at the NHL level.
Reunited last night with former Ottawa 67's teammateand speedy winger , McGinn and company have been flying around on the ice and building off an excellent preseason that saw them earn rave reviews from the coaching staff in their time spent together. Although Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan broke them up to begin the year, their tenacious forechecking ability and ability to push the puck through the neutral zone was too much to pass up after a rocky start to begin the regular season, giving the team an excellent 1-2-3 punch from their top nine forwards. It makes consistently rolling three lines that much easier for the team, something that is always cited as an important attribute for any successful club.
McGinn's improvement from last season has been showcased during the Sharks first five games, no more so than the last two against Carolina and Colorado. He has taken a newfound liking to the front of the net, setting screens and restricting the goaltender's view of the puck in order to give his teammates the best opportunity to score.
Although McGinn has yet to register a point this season, it's not due to lack of effort-- a nifty deflection in tight against Colorado squeaked just by the far post, and a handful of opportunities for him and his linemates were snuffed out bythroughout the tilt. The goals will come for McGinn, Couture, and Mitchell provided they keep up the same level of effort they showcased together-- a level of effort that earned much praise from Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda last night on air.
And something that McGinn has taken pride in all his career.
"I definitely want to be a tough player to play against," McGinn told Fear The Fin. "My greatest strength as a player is my work ethic."
Perhaps the most notable improvement from McGinn this season has been his ability to control the puck along the boards on the low cycle. Emulating fellow teammate Ryane Clowe in this regard, McGinn has shown a knack for keeping the play alive and generating scoring chances off his positioning and body size. Listed at 6'1 200 pounds, it would be no surprise if he hit the weight room hard this offseason and added some more bulk to that frame. He still has the good end to end speed that meshes well with his third line teammates, but for a line that doesn't have the stereotypical power forward getting consistent shifts at even strength, McGinn has done a good job of stepping into that role. It's something that could pay off dividends as the year goes along, what with Logan Couture's phenomenal set up ability and Torrey Mitchell's ability to move his feet and find open areas on the ice.
The only issue that could be a concern going forward for McGinn is his tendency to take more penalties than he draws. McGinn was second behind only Brad Staubitz last season in penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice time (1.3), and this year he's already managed to put his team shorthanded four times in five games. It's an aspect of his play that will need to improve as the season goes along, especially for a third-line player whose primary job is to tire out opposing defenseman so San Jose's talented top six can take full advantage of their shifts. If McGinn can get further acclimated to the speed of the professional game and avoid the hooks and grabs League officials have been cracking down on since the lockout, he will be one step closer to the player San Jose hopes he can be.
A 15 goal campaign from McGinn is the likely expectation for him this season. Last year in he potted ten markers in 58 games, and with Logan Couture expected to center him for the near future, the opportunities will be there. His wrist shot has the snap to get him to that level-- his chemistry with his linemates has the promise to push him over the top. All that's left is for the line of young guns who average 22.6 years in age to continue the solid play they've shown thus far, and become consistent enough where they're a threat every single night they hit the ice together.
"San Jose is where I want to be at the end of the day, and there's an opportunity now to make it there," McGinn said last February.
The Worcester Shuttle is no more this season. McGinn's opportunity is now.