Few players had a flashier start in the NHL than Brock McGinn of the Carolina Hurricanes.
On the first shift of his first game, McGinn scored. Just like that, in 55 seconds, he had his first NHL goal.
As McGinn skated back to the Canes’ bench that night in Detroit last season, assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour half-jokingly told him, “Man, it’s tough when you come out like that. You can only go one way, but hopefully you can keep it up.”
McGinn didn’t keep it up last season. Though he played 21 games for the Canes, he spent much of the 2015-16 season with the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate.
But the second time around has been different, better. McGinn started this season with the Checkers but was recalled Nov. 11 and has made himself useful, earning a spot on Jordan Staal’s line, helping the Canes kill penalties and giving his team the kind of rugged, sandpaper play the 6-foot, 185-pound winger has shown at every level.
“With the experience of the callup last year, I’m a little more comfortable, for sure, and playing with more confidence,” McGinn said in an interview. “Maybe it was a little nerves the first time, getting that call, being really excited. You don’t want to go out there and make mistakes and you want to just simplify your game.
“Now I think I’m getting used to it and I’m more comfortable handling the puck and keeping it. I’m trying to play a more skilled role while keeping my physicality. Just trying to make more plays and contribute.”
McGinn did that Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. His second-period goal, his second of the season, pushed the Canes ahead 3-2 and he finished with a plus-2 night as the Canes won their first matchup this season with the Eastern Conference leaders, 5-3.
Canes coach Bill Peters said McGinn recently had been playing with an injury and that he encouraged him to take a few days off.
“He didn’t want to come out of the lineup and that’s a credit to him,” Peters said. “There’s not enough old-school guys left and he’s old-school in the fact he likes it, he’s trying to establish himself as a full-time NHL player and he plays hard each and every night.”
Hardly old at 22, McGinn said he does feel the window beginning to close a bit in terms of proving himself at the NHL level. He signed his three-year entry level contract in April 2013 and spent most of his first two professional seasons in Charlotte.
“As you get older your time is going down, for sure,” he said. “I think right now I really want to push and make that impact with my physicality and defense.”
And killing penalties. The Canes were first in the NHL in penalty killing (88.5) after Tuesday’s game.
“I did it in Charlotte and junior, too,” McGinn said. “It’s something I feel comfortable out there doing and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. I think our P.K. is bringing a lot of momentum for our five-on-five hockey.”
The Canes’ penalty killing was a factor Tuesday. The Blue Jackets’ power play was top-rated in the NHL but the Canes killed off all four penalties.
Derek Ryan, who had a goal and assist Tuesday, often centered a line with McGinn with the Checkers last season. Also recalled Nov. 11, Ryan said he has noticed a difference in McGinn’s play with the Canes.
“I think a big part of it is him being comfortable in making the plays here he would make in Charlotte,” Ryan said. “It can be a little scary to do that in the NHL when you’re not a solidified NHL’er but he’s doing that a lot more.”
McGinn, a former second-round pick by the Canes, had a minus-14 plus/minus rating in his 21 NHL games last season. He’s plus-1 in 25 games this season.
“He’s a hard-working guy who has a lot of skill,” Ryan said. “I don’t think a lot of people give him credit for that. He has a great shot and great release, so he can score goals. He’s a pretty well-rounded player, a really good, strong winger who wins a lot of battles.”