RALEIGH, N.C. – Hopping on a flight from Toronto early Friday morning, Greg McGegg didn’t necessarily expect to be surrounded by a throng of media in the Carolina Hurricanes dressing room in PNC Arena by the end of the day.
His two-point effort, his first-ever multi-point finish in the NHL – a goal and an assist – helped the Hurricanes post their third win in a row, a 4-2 decision over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Arriving at 11:30 a.m., he had a quick turnaround as he called it in preparing to take to the ice in his first game in Carolina since he was acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
Playing on a line with Warren Foegele and Saku Maenalanen, McKegg and got rave reviews from head coach Rod Brind’Amour afterwards.
“They were the difference, no doubt, ” Brind’Amour said.
“They were our best line overall. If you look at the shifts that they had, they didn’t have too many bad ones. They pretty much dominated every shift that they were out on. Obviously, the goals helped, but just changing the momentum of the game. They came in and had shifts in the other team’s end. They did a great job.”
Following Michael Ferland’s 12th goal of the season at 5:16 into the opening period, McKegg picked up a feed from Maenalanen, carried the puck through the neutral zone and across the Columbus blue line before dropping a pass to defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The defenseman’s quick snap shot came behind McKegg as he crossed from the middle of the slot to the boards and eluded Columbus starting netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, partially stopping the attempt with his trapper, but watching it continue into the net.
Both McKegg and Maenalanen earned their first points with the Hurricanes as a result.
With Carolina carrying the 2-0 lead into the second period, McKegg then made it a two-point night when he redirected Brett Pesce’s pass past a lunging Bobrovsky to extend the Hurricanes lead to three goals.
With Joonas Korpisalo soon replacing Bobrovsky in net, finishing with 13 saves, the Blue Jackets responded with consecutive goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand and Artemi Panarin 25 seconds apart to pull within one entering the third period.
Hurricanes netminder Curtis McElhinney responded with a seven-save effort, of 22 total, during the final 20 minutes and earned his ninth win of the season.
Little did McKegg know his first goal with the Hurricanes would become the eventual game-winner. even as Sebastian Aho’s empty-netter with two seconds remaining made it a 4-2 finish.
“It was kind of nice, I didn’t really have too much time to think about it,” McKegg said.
“It was nice to get on the board early and get the win. You always hope you get off to a good start. We built that lead and we were able to finish off in the third.”
With a five-year junior playing career history with the OHL’s Erie Otters and London Knights, two years in particular during which he posted 85 (37g, 48a) and 92 (49g, 43a) points in 67 and 66 games, respectively showed that he has the talent to score.
Thus, seeing how and what he did against the Blue Jackets shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
A third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010, impressive offensive numbers haven’t resulted for McKegg in the same way in the NHL or AHL as they did in junior.
He has learned that playing pro does not always equate into assuming the same role.
“There’s not too many guys that can step in and score right away at this level, or in pro regardless,” McKegg said.
“You gotta find a way to earn ice time when you’re young. If that’s takin’ more draws in the D-zone and things like that, you gotta find a niche for a team. Just tryin’ to keep doin’ that each day.”
In his seventh season as a pro, now with his fifth NHL team, McKegg liked what he saw when he stepped into the Carolina room earlier in the day.
“There’s a lot of positive attitudes in here I think,” he said.
“It’s a fast team, they play with a lot of pace, and just keep buildin’ off wins. I walked in and it was real positive right away and it was a nice environment to be a part of.”
Even with a memorable night with the First Star accolades that came with it, McKegg knows that it isn’t a permanent situation necessarily.
But one that he knows how to work within regardless if he stays in Raleigh for just a cup of coffee, or maybe longer.
“You just wanna put your best foot forward and contribute any way you can,” he said.
“To chip it in is obviously special any time you can. To cap it off with a win was pretty awesome. It’s special. You never know when it’s gonna come again and you just gotta keep grinding away. Anytime you can contribute at this level I think, is obviously special. You know, you just gotta keep playin’ and puttin’ your best foot forward every time you’re out there, and when the opportunity comes, you gotta be ready for it.”
Attitude is everything, and someone who knows that the 26-year-old forward gets ‘it’ is the Hurricanes head coach.
“He’s a pro,” Brind’Amour said of McKegg.
“We did a nice job of getting him in our organization. He had a great training camp. He was right there. This was an easy call-up. He’s obviously trying to stay here. I love him.”
With that, McKegg may be able to sip his coffee a little more slowly.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport