It’s difficult to tell if Thunder coach Kevin McClelland knows what he has in forward Nick McParland. Even McParland isn’t completely sure how McClelland feels.
Maybe McClelland just hasn’t given it much thought lately, because McParland’s play is answering doubts.
McParland, who owned eight professional games before this season, has at least emerged as someone McClelland doesn’t mind putting with more established players, playing effectively on a line with veterans RG Flath and Matt Summers.
McParland has seven points in his last eight games, even though McClelland is still wondering how. Unless he isn’t.
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“I’m trying to figure out what we saw,” McLelland said after McParland scored an important goal in Wichita’s win over St. Charles last weekend. “He’s playing with a couple good players. He’s going to get the opportunities and he needs to put them in.
“He’s a guy that will go into traffic areas. If he’s going to make it, he’s going to be a scorer, obviously.”
The 26-year-old McParland earned that reputation and those expectations when he scored 77 goals in 49 games during his last season of junior hockey. His college career wasn’t nearly as efficient, as he notched 66 points in 142 games with what he called a particularly disappointing senior season.
That didn’t keep professional teams away, though, and McParland scored two goals in his first game with Orlando of the ECHL. When he became available just before the season, Wichita added him, and McParland was one of the only steady pieces during a tumultuous opening month.
“When I first got here, there were guys that were hurt, and (McLelland) just had to look for a place for me,” McParland said.
That place, at least initially, was scrambling to various lines to see which ones clicked and which didn’t, a process McClelland used with most players who managed to remain healthy.
When the roster finally became fortified, McParland settled in with Flath and Summers, two players who have also benefitted from the line changes after slow starts. The trio has combined for six goals – two apiece – in the last six games.
“I’ve got to give some credit to my linemates,” McParland said. “I’ve been playing with RG Flath and Summers, and they’re some veteran players who are really smart with the puck.”
With 15 years of professional experience between them, including nearly six combined in Wichita, Summers and Flath are helping to bring McParland along in other ways.
“There’s a lot that comes with being a pro,” McParland said. “It’s not just the on-ice stuff. RG is big in the community and stuff. There’s a lot of people who help you out, whether it’s the boosters or whoever. That stuff helps, obviously. You want to be comfortable and you want people to like you, and they definitely help with that, as well.”
McParland’s next step toward professional fulfillment is consistency. His recent scoring surge has highlighted his season so far, but eleven scoreless games – including two stretches of three games with no points – have kept his overall numbers from reflecting his progress.
Still, McClelland’s confidence in McParland seems to be growing, even if McParland hedges when asked if that’s how he feels.
“A bit,” McParland said. “Obviously, I’ve got a lot more to prove. You’ve got these veteran guys who are so good at the little things, and there are some things in my game that need to get better. That comes with confidence and working hard. There’s still a lot for me to learn. I want to learn it and I want to get better.”