By Tyler King
For this year’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons, only four players have appeared in all 29 games so far.
The first three would be easy guesses; veteran forwards Jetlan Houcher, Mitch Vanderlaan, and Adam Durkee, who have made junior A careers out of making regular impacts for their team.
The fourth, however, is a player whose impact is being felt at a greater level every week. Rookie forward Jackson McKinstry is the only other player who hasn’t missed a game this year. Though he hasn’t matched the point totals of the three other veteran regulars, with 4 goals and 5 assists in 29 games, he has continued to carve out a role for himself as a vital and defensively responsible centre, who helps create the kind of forward depth upon which nearly every successful team is built.
Coming off his first multi-point game in the AJHL, a one-goal, one-assist performance against the Whitecourt Wolverines in a 5-4 win on Friday night, McKinstry was quick to emphasize areas of improvement for himself, and credit the team’s overall performance. There was nary a brag in sight.
“I think I can tighten up defensively on my faceoffs and everything in the d-zone,” he said, “but it was a good team win and team effort all around.”
McKinstry’s goal on the night was an open-net tap-in set up perfectly by captain Houcher. But the Calgary native also chipped in when he won a race to a loose puck behind the Calgary net, flipped it in front to a waiting Isaac Ceh, and soon saw his team record its third goal of the night.
“I just try to work hard,” said McKinstry of the play. “It was good dump-in, [I] got to it, and just poked it to Ceh, and he just finished it.”
The two-point night was more reminiscent of McKinstry’s minor hockey tenure with the Calgary Buffaloes midget AAA team, where he quickly developed into one of Alberta’s more revered forwards. Last season, McKinstry led his team in points with 18 goals and 23 assists, his 41 points tying him for ninth in the entire province in scoring.
Certainly, McKinstry had his options, but Fort McMurray was a clear frontrunner.
“I had talked to [head scout] Doug Hergeinhein a lot; he said it was a great place, and I trusted him, and it is a great place,” said McKinstry of his rationale for choosing the MOB. “The fans are awesome; everything about it – the community’s great, everything.”
But there has been an adjustment process for McKinstry to transition from being a leading scoring force to establishing himself as a role player with less ice time as he carves out an identity in the junior A game.
“I’m just going to watch guys in practice – the older guys; Houcher, Durkee, Vanderlaan – and just be a sponge, take it all in, and just watch them do what they’re doing,” he said of his current approach. “I’m just trying to get my game to where it needs to be this season.”
When asked to highlight what continues to impress him the most about the experience of being an Oil Baron, the diplomatic rookie continued to credit the MOB faithful who pack the stands every weekend for helping to validate his decision.
“Just the fans; it’s something you have to experience when you play. Just having it described to you doesn’t bring the same effect as actually playing,” he said.
For Oil Barons fans, McKinstry has already demonstrated the potential to be the kind of “awesome” all-around talented centre upon whom MOB fans will be quick to shower their praise. If he continues to take influence from the calibre of players he mentions – Houcher, Vanderlaan, Durkee – there is no question he is on the right track toward achieving exactly that level of success.
With time, he may even become one of the best at provoking those boisterous reactions from the crowd he appreciates so much.
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