by Warren Kosel || AHL On The Beat Archive
A season ago, Kenndal McArdle entered his rookie season of professional hockey like any other excited first-year pro looking to further their career.
A stranger among new faces in the locker room, a new venue and a new city, McArdle’s rookie campaign in the American Hockey League was not all that he hoped it would be after injuries forced the promising 22-year-old to miss half the season.
Now, a year later, McArdle has developed into one of the Amerks’ top scorers and a leader on the ice, and has already seen time in the National Hockey League with the Florida Panthers.
Let’s just say that this season the second-year forward is taking on a bigger role.
“As a rookie, everyone comes on to a new team not sure of what their role is going to be,” said McArdle. “Last year, I tried to bring energy and work ethic each night I played and this year I have tried to build on the same; energy and work ethic being the forefront, meanwhile adding productivity on the scoresheet.”
And that he has. Despite currently being sidelined with an upper-body injury, the 2007 Memorial Cup winner is two points away from doubling his point totals last season and is en route to his first 20-point season as pro.
Additionally, McArdle’s energetic style of play is indicative of the new role he assumed this season; just take a close look at the penalty minutes column and see for yourself. His 71 PIM are presently the fourth most for the Amerks, which equates to roughly 1.65 PIM per game.
“I’ve always been a high-intensity player, even through junior hockey,” said McArdle, who played five junior seasons (2002-07) with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. “I bring a little more physicality to the game and I try to finish most of my checks.”
With already a year of pro hockey under his belt and perhaps a better understanding of the game at this level, McArdle can now mainly focus on improving his on-ice performance and become a consistent contributor offensively.
“Coming into this season, I really felt that I could be more productive,” said the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Toronto native. “Last year I spent most of the time feeling out the league and figuring out where I would fit in. This year I knew I could become a more of an asset on the team.”
And once again, that he has, so much in fact that McArdle is seeing a dramatic increase in ice time, in addition to being utilized more frequently by head coach Benoit Groulx in special-teams situations.
“Last year I was lucky to receive a lot of ice, especially for a rookie. However, this season, my playing time has definitely increased on all systems and I hope it’s a sign that the coaching staff has faith enough in me to put me into these kinds of situations. It is helping me become a true complete player; something I feel will get me to the next level,” said McArdle.
Well, that it has, which is evidence enough as to why McArdle continues to work as hard he does every game while in the AHL. His much awaited dream came true when the young forward made his NHL debut on Dec. 2, 2008, logging just over five minutes of ice time in the Florida Panthers’ 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals.
He went on to play in two more games with the Panthers before being reassigned back to Rochester five days later, but the ear-to-ear smile can still be found proudly displayed on his face every time he talks about the experience.
“The NHL level is as perfect as it gets,” said McArdle about his time with the Panthers. “I need to complete my game even more to remain up there full-time. That’s why this league (the AHL) is so good; working diligently down here will bring my game up to that level. “
Now that the coaching staff in Rochester recognizes McArdle as more than just a player who can work the power play effectively, his newest task, as encouraged by his coaches with the support of his teammates, is to take on more of a leadership role.
One would argue such a responsibility should not be placed on the shoulders of a second-year player, but McArdle, already having played one full season, can use the experience and knowledge he gained as a rookie to help develop the younger guys on the team.
“Any leg-up I would have would be a small one at best, but I still try and lead in any way I can; hopefully by on-ice play,” said McArdle . “I also try and answer any questions a new guy would have, whether about the league, or city or anything in general.”
So what else has changed for the Florida Panthers’ 2005 first-round selection other than becoming a more established and reliable player?
“Confidence would be the number one change,” said McArdle. “It really does go a long way for your on-ice performance. I now trust my instincts more and don’t dwell on my mistakes as much because I know I belong at this level, and hopefully the next.
“Confidence in yourself as a hockey player and as an individual is the most important thing,” he added, “and I’ve noticed that people respond positively to confidence.”
When asked on how his first two seasons of pro hockey as treated him thus far, he responded, “It has been great to me. I have no complaints or regrets so far, nor should I this early in my career. No matter how cliché it sounds, I really am taking it game-by-game, working hard hoping to make it like the next guy. Pro hockey is a dream come true, I am fortunate to be able to live my dream.”