By any measuring stick you care to use, this has been a tough season for Chilliwack Bruins forward Dylen McKinlay.
From the get-go, the 2010-11 campaign has been de-railed by injuries and inconsistency — his subpar stats tell the story with just four goals and 13 points scored in 27 games.
Not the numbers McKinlay thought he’d have after being taken by the Minnesota Wild in last summer’s National Hockey League entry draft. But the light at the end of the tunnel may be shining through as we hit the back-stretch of the Western Hockey League season.
Since New Year’s Eve, McKinlay has started to more closely resemble the guy who skated for the Bruins last year — a fast and aggressive player who tallied 20 goals and 42 points in 72 games as a 17-year-old.
“I haven’t really ever been injured, so starting off the season injured was a big blow,” McKinlay concurred. “I think it took a little time to get back, but I’ve been feeling pretty good since the Moose Jaw game (Dec. 31).”
McKinlay’s comeback was as much mental as physical. The winger was the victim of a knee-on-knee collision with Kelowna Rockets defenceman Mitchell Chapman, a hit that earned Chapman a five minute major and a league suspension.
In nine games to that point, McKinlay had struggled, generating no goals and just three assists.
“When it first happened, it was only supposed to be a week or so and we didn’t know it (knee ligament) was torn,” McKinlay explained. “It was definitely tough to hear. When you can’t play a sport that you love, it sucks, especially when you’re watching the boys battle and you want to be out there to help them.”
But McKinlay happens to be a silver lining sort of guy, and he says there was one good thing to come from a layoff that ended up spanning 17 games.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise because I’m a smaller guy (listed at six feet and a sleight 162 pounds), and it gave me an opportunity to work out my upper body and try to get bigger and stronger before coming back,” he said. “I think it helped a bit because I feel better out there than I did before.”
The Bruins will need McKinlay at his biggest and best moving forward.
The team is likely to be without Ryan Howse and Roman Horak next season, with both 20 years old and eligible to graduate to the pro ranks.
Robin Soudek will be a big question mark, as most teams don’t prefer using up a 20-year-old and Euro spot on one player.
McKinlay, Jamie Crooks, Steven Hodges, Brandon Magee and Kevin Sundher, could be the nucleus of the 2011-12 offence.
“When you’re having a tough season, sometimes it just takes one goal to get things going,” McKinlay said. “I think I’m close to getting into a rhythym, and hopefully it happens soon.”