SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Ryan MacKinnon earned his opportunity and made the most out of it.
The 23-year-old Summerside native spoke with a few AHL teams earlier this year while finishing his season with the UPEI Panthers. Bridgeport Sound Tigers general manager Chris Lamoriello was the one that stood out to the blue-liner.
When the Panthers post-season run ended, Lamoriello told MacKinnon there was a spot for him on its ECHL affiliate in Worcester, Conn., and a chance for him to try to earn an AHL contract with the New York Islanders farm team.
After recording two goals and seven assists for nine points in nine games with the ECHL’s Railers and a plus-five rating, MacKinnon signed an AHL contract for the remainder of the season and 2018-19.
“For me, that was my biggest goal, leaving UPEI,” MacKinnon said recently. “It’s something everybody tries to get.”
MacKinnon said he was fortunate to have the support of head coach and general manager Jamie Russell when he arrived in Worcester and to have supportive teammates like Justin Hamonic, Chris Langkow and former Panthers blue-liner Brock Beukeboom.
“I took the opportunity I had in Worcester and I thought I made the best out of it and luckily it paid off,” MacKinnon said.
It doesn't surprise his former head coach.
“He’s very driven. He’s very disciplined. He’s very focused, very mature,” Panthers bench boss Forbes MacPherson said. “He carries himself very professionally. He was like that before he came to UPEI, (and) we’re very excited for him.”
MacKinnon, who was named the Panthers male athlete of the year, played three games in the AHL before the Sound Tigers season ended. He was returned to Worcester to complete the year.
The Railers are trailing the Adirondack Thunder 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is today at 8 p.m.
MacKinnon is not the first Islander to wear the Sound Tigers colours. The list includes Suffolk’s Ross Johnston, Summerside’s Brett Gallant and Kinkora native Nathan McIver.
“I didn't know anybody prior to coming into Bridgeport, so anytime you start introducing yourself to people and they hear you’re from P.E.I., they go right down the list of names of people who have played in Bridgeport,” MacKinnon explained. “They’ve definitely made it easier on me for sure.”
For many junior-aged players, the dream is to make it to the NHL. When the junior career ends and the opportunity doesn’t present itself, some turn the page. MacKinnon remained intent to play pro, but first get his business degree at UPEI.
He started working out with other professional players at Dynamic Fitness.
“I just wanted to make sure when the opportunity presented itself to me that I was 100 per cent ready for it,” MacKinnon said.
He’s thankful for the ability to grow his game while wearing the green and white at UPEI.
“Forbie definitely gave me every opportunity at UPEI to work on those different skills,” MacKinnon said. “My skating ability and offensive game took a big step there (during) my time at UPEI.”
The Panthers are proud to use their alumni as examples for prospective players to look up. The list includes San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward but also includes guys like Reggie Traccitto, Chris DeSousa, Matt Maione and now MacKinnon.
“We use those examples and the players want to hear about them because they are focused on pro,” MacPherson said. “It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to put your commitment to action and model yourself the way a Ryan MacKinnon does.”
To drive home the point MacPherson said his team is in very good physical shape, but MacKinnon scored 20 per cent better than the rest of the team during the fall combine.
MacKinnon said he would be going to the Islanders development camp this summer and the rookie tournament in the fall.
“I can just see him arriving at that pro franchise for the first time,” MacPherson said. “While he may be full of nerves in the inside, the first impression that he brings is a very positive one and leaves a lasting impression.”