COLORADO SPRINGS (KXRM) — As a college free agent, Hunter McKown gauged so much interest from NHL teams that he took a break from one of his classes at Colorado College to make sure he could process all the scheduled interviews.
“There are so many phenomenal organizations,” McKown said. “When (Columbus) first reached out to me, I didn’t really give it too much thought, honestly. It was midseason and I was focused on playing our games.”
His most memorable: a 1-0 win over defending national champion Denver in the NCHC Tournament to help CC end an 11-game losing streak against the Pioneers, continuing what seemed like an unlikely postseason run for the Tigers, who went 10-21-3 during the regular season to earn the No. 7 seed in the conference tourney.
Colorado College’s postseason also featured stunning back-to-back wins over No. 2 seed Western Michigan in Kalamazoo to earn the matchup with DU.
McKown finished his junior season with a team-high 21 goals and an NCAA-best 14 on the power play, signing with the Blue Jackets and making his NHL debut less than a week after CC’s 3-0 loss to St. Cloud State in the NCHC Championship. He registered an assist and won 7-of-9 faceoffs in a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders.
In 12 games with Columbus, he posted two assists and the second-best faceoff percentage (55.2%) among rookies who took at least 80 draws, trailing only Ottawa’s Mark Kastelic (57.0%).
While his first NHL goal will be in the future, he showed off the ability to do so consistently at the collegiate level, scoring 36 times in three seasons in Colorado Springs. Perhaps no goal was more memorable, though, than one that only a handful of players could execute.
Trailing 3-2 in the third period against Omaha, McKown attacked from the left wing on the forecheck, sweeping his stick to his backhand before quickly returning to the forehand to force Mavericks defenseman Jacob Guevin toward the high slot. McKown then stole the puck away from Guevin and buried the game-tying goal past a sliding Omaha goaltender Will Craig.
“It was one of those plays that looks really flashy and kind of showoff-esque, but I love the move, honestly,” McKown said. “I was watching the goalies probably for a good four or five games before that game leading into it. I don’t think a goalie is going to be expecting it, just the way that they’re moving laterally, if you’re coming across the goal like that.
“Like I said, it sometimes has a negative connotation just about being too flashy, but it wasn’t about that for me. I really was watching and I thought that it could be a really effective play in that situation.”
The studious, calculated performance began years prior when he substituted pucks for golf balls during stickhandling drills.
The masterful displayer of silky mitts, whose jaw-dropping tally would surely be appreciated by one of his American hockey idols named Patrick, delivered two scoring encores by finishing off the Tigers’ 6-4 victory with a third-period hat trick.
“Patrick Kane has been on the top of the league as far as skill for the last ten years at least,” McKown said. “I don’t know if I’ll be as skilled as that guy one day, but he and Auston Matthews definitely influence that with me for sure.”
The San Jose, Calif., native will join the Blue Jackets for the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in Michigan Sept. 14-17, hoping to earn a full-time roster spot for a Columbus team that begins the preseason schedule Sept. 24 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“(Columbus) doesn’t get talked about at all. Unbelievable city,” McKown said. “There’s so much to do. Great restaurants, obviously, and Ohio State is right there. We’re not even the biggest athletes there in the city. We got the football team there, but it’s an awesome spot.
“It’s a hidden gem.”
A potential perfect description for an undrafted free agent from Colorado College.