Toronto actually has a pretty good history of finding hidden gems in the late rounds. Connor Brown, Andreas Johnsson, Pierre Engvall, Pontus Holmberg, and I'm going to add Nikita Grebyonkin were all late round picks that became (or will soon become) NHLers of some sort.

Sam McCue is a guy that does not jump off the page as a guy who can step up as the next late round swing to become an NHLer. He was not a high draft pick in the OHL. He has never really been a highly regarded prospect. Even this year, in his draft year, he doesn't exactly have sterling point totals and underlying metrics that can give any hint at a future NHL player.

What he does have is the kind of vibes that coaches love. So let's talk about him.


Position: Left-shot winger
League: OHL
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 187 lbs
Birth date: Oct 3rd, 2005

Sam has always been a player that teams and coaches like, but has never been a top prospect. He was a later round draft pick in the OHL as well as in the NHL, with his offensive impacts coming mostly from his ability to score goals. Looking at his EP page, he often had more goals than assists, and never had point or goal production among the leaders in his age group. That trend continued this year, with Sam scoring a good amount for a draft-year player, but his point totals were well down.

McCue's season this year was split between two teams – he started the season with Peterborough, the team that drafted him into the OHL. With the Petes he had 11 goals and 5 assists in 34 games. Exactly halfway through the season, he was traded to Owen Sound where he got a slightly bigger role, with more minutes at even strength but less powerplay time. In another 34 games with Owen Sound, he had 12 goals and 9 assists.

Not only did he increase his goal and point production slightly, but he did it without relying on the powerplay as much as he did with Peterborough. Where he had 4 of his 11 goals come with the man advantage with the Petes, only 1 of his 12 goals in Owen Sound were on the powerplay. He was still playing bottom six minutes, but it was on the third line with occasional minutes bumped up onto the second line rather than being purely a fourth/third line guy.

For a fun comparison, Sam McCue is the younger brother of Max McCue. Max was a London Knights grinder for many years, and just finished his OHL career with them alongside Easton Cowan. After being drafted in the fifth round by San Jose, he went unsigned. But a strong season with London, including a playoff run at higher than a point per game, and was signed by Columbus to an ELC.

I'm talking about Max, because it gives a good idea of who Sam is as a player – and also what his development path will likely look like, and what progression to compare Sam to.

For example, Sam played almost the exact same number of games in his D-1 season (33) as Max did in his (34), but Sam had only one assist compared to Max's 6 points (2+4). In their draft years, Sam had 37 points (23+14) in 68 games, where Max did not play at all due to the COVID lockdowns. However, Sam's 37 points is comparable to Max's D+1 season. The COVID lockdown year complicates things, but given the same time for development you can consider Max's D+1 like his draft year when comparing to Sam.


Simply put, Sam McCue is a warrior. He brings a ton of energy on the ice for his team whenever he plays, and uses it to good effect when forechecking, battling in front of the net, and annoying the absolute shit out of his opponents. Even at Toronto's development camp, he got into a shoving match with one of the free agent invites (Jack Ricketts) and reportedly took some shots from fellow Leafs' prospect Jacob Quillan earlier in the week during their drills. In that sense, he is very good at what he does and is very like his brother.

McCue has a very hard work ethic on the ice, and plays a hard, physical style as well. That doesn't just mean throwing hits, mind you. He will also take hits to make plays, he will battle in the congested areas of the ice for loose pucks, he will set picks and put himself in the way to give his teammates more space in the areas of the ice they want to go to, all of which usually means he takes some crosschecks and slashes. These are very useful habits to have, that don't get appreciated a lot. He has talked about modeling his play style after the likes of Tyler Bertuzzi and players of that ilk.

From Taahaa Lone, who works for Recruit Scouting as a scout:

Sam McCue is a very respectable player. I love the energy and drive he brings to the game, and his penchant for the dirty areas is something that NHL teams love. McCue has a nose for the net and an innate scoring touch, which will serve him very well in his professional career. Also, I feel as if I’m not doing justice as to how hard this guy works. This is a guy who sets the example for the rest of the team, taking and dealing punishment, grinding for every puck, and doing what it takes to win games.

When it comes to McCue's skills, he gets good reviews for having a natural goal scorer's touch in front of the net. So while he may not be a sniper, he has a good sense of where and when to be around the net and how to beat goalies in close. It can be a matter of tapping in a pass or rebound as he's parked in front of the net, or beating a goalie clean if he has a clear shot within the slot.

From the Elite Prospects' draft guide:

McCue doesn’t stop. He skates hard after every puck, collides with every opponent, and battles for every inch of ice. After passing, he skates his routes, sets picks, and pushes back to the defence to create space for his teammates. Though skill flashes are infrequent, McCue has off-the-pass shooting skill and vision to slip pucks inside from the boards. He shows more advanced rush patterns if given space, too.
There’s potential with McCue. Physical, high-motor player who could become even more impact with more speed and moving his feet more often. He has some ideas with the puck, too. He tries to cutback on defenders who close space and tries to work pucks through their triangles.


All of the above said, there is a reason why McCue has always been more of a bottom six guy even in the OHL – and it's not painting a rosy outlook for his NHL future. There are simply not many NHL players, even guys who are mostly depth in the bottom six, who were not top line players at junior or whatever level of hockey they played as prospects.

McCue has two main issues. First, his skating mechanics are not ideal and it limits his speed and explosiveness in important ways. It may not limit him a great deal in junior, though I would say it is already holding him back from being a top line, grinding, power forward that can support stars on his team. Regardless, it will absolutely limit his upside when projecting to the AHL and especially the NHL. He will not work very well even as a bottom six energy winger if he cannot skate well enough at the pros. His effectiveness on the forecheck, chasing down puck carriers to strip and/or check them, and getting around the ice in all three zones will be severely hampered if he cannot improve his skating by a not insignificant amount.

The second issue is that his offensive skill really is limited. He is not a great puck handler, nor is he a great passer. If he has the puck on his stick, he looks to get rid of it as soon as he can. That means either passing it to someone else or dumping it out/in to chase after it. The effectiveness of the latter is limited by his relatively poor skating, and the effectiveness of the former is limited by his relatively poor passing accuracy.

Simply put, McCue will not become viable NHL depth unless he improves in these two key areas. He needs to be able to keep up with the pace and the speed of pro hockey, and he needs to be able to at least consistently make his simple outlet passes when he wants to get rid of the puck. It would also help if he adds at least a baseline level of handling the puck so he has some versatility, and doesn't have to always resort to dumping it, passing it or shooting it.


I like the idea of Sam McCue. I really do. I liked his brother a lot on London, and Sam plays a similar style with worse playmaking but better goal scoring.

Energy guys who can be physical, create space for linemates, get under the other team's skin, and chip in some offense by being a menace in front of the net are all valuable things to have. McCue's off puck ability is also pretty underrated – he wowed me at the dev camp scrimmage when he stripped Fraser Minten of the puck in the defensive end, started the breakout with a quick pass, then got on his horse to receive a pass in the slot off the rush chance he started to finish off the play with a goal.

McCue has such a solid foundation to build off of already, but those two areas of weakness are not small problems he just needs to make some tweaks on. His skating is at least not Chadwick or Villeneuve levels of bad at the same age, so I do have some hope he can make those mechanical adjustments and work on adding power to his legs so he can increase his speed and explosiveness.

The puck handling and passing skills are tougher. It's hard to think that McCue can suddenly develop a much better feel for either, though I am sure he will get better. The question is if he can get so much better that it will be at an acceptable level in the NHL.

Toronto does have a history of finding players who make bigger developmental leaps than expected, but as a seventh rounder who almost went undrafted it is not as likely for McCue. But if Toronto can work that miracle with him, I can promise he'll be a fan favourite at whatever level or whatever team he plays for.

Thanks for reading!

I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, NCAA, USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, The Athletic, and more.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

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