Who is this guy?
What are they saying about him?
McNeill has been most noted for his size, as he is fairly tall and strong even by physical defenseman standards. And the physical characteristics listed were based on measurements taken at Prospect Camp in July, so having spent the summer training with Gary Roberts we can expect him to come in this fall even stronger than before. He has been known to play a solid shutdown game, noted for his skating ability, reach, and hockey IQ.
His major drawback is that he lacks any sort of offensive output, being a pure defensive shutdown D. But as long as he can continue to provide a solid defensive contribution and an ability to dish a crisp first pass it doesn't matter whether or not he is getting pucks in the net.
Where has he been?
McNeill started out as an undersized defender struggling to make his way in Junior D hockey. So to what does he credit his breakout? "I grew eight inches in a year," McNeill said. He was an unknown young kid that had not been drafted into the Major Juniors, but then the scouts noticed him and he was invited to join the London Knights. McNeill spent two seasons playing for London in the OHL, working as a shutdown pair partnered with fellow Penguins prospect Scott Harrington.
However, the following season he was traded to the Barrie Colts in order for the London Knights to gain the rights to pick Olli Maatta with the #1 overall selection in the CHL import draft. He finished out his Junior career playing for Barrie where he was encouraged to play a more free-wheeling style than the rigid systems they ran in London. His offensive output, while it will never be stellar, did improve enough to suggest that he won't be detrimental to his team.
Last year he spent the majority of the season playing with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers, putting up similar numbers to what he did down in London, suggesting that his game is already pro ready. He finished the season with the WBS Baby Pens and was a responsible defensive addition to the 3rd pair playing for most of the AHL playoffs.
When can we expect to see him?
McNeill started his professional hockey career last season in the ECHL and is expected to make the AHL roster playing on the 3rd pair in WBS this season. He plays a simple shutdown style and has excellent size, so his game is already more or less NHL ready. However he doesn't project as more than a defensive/physical 3rd pair D, so his ability to make the NHL roster is limited by roster space and the blue chip prospects ahead of him on the depth chart. He remains under contract and waiver exempt up through the 2014-15 season, so it isn't unreasonable to assume he could spend the next two years in the AHL and make a push for the NHL in the 2015-16 season.
Why is he #21?
McNeill received 1 vote for 10th, 1 vote for 18th, 2 votes for 19th, 2 votes for 22nd, 1 vote for 23rd, 1 vote for 24th, and 1 omitted him from the Top 25.
How can he climb the list?
Unfortunately McNeill has pretty much reached his potential upside, so the primary way for him to climb the list is just by making a name for himself through having more experience than his peers or surviving them through attrition. He could certainly stand to extend his ability to play in the offensive zone, but he is more of the Brooks Orpik that needs partnered with a more offensively capable shutdown defender like Paul Martin, as he was with Harrington back in London. He will also continue to increase his strength, adding bulk through muscle mass, and that will be important when he hits the NHL. If anything it wouldn't hurt for him to increase his physicality so we could have a player that hits and clears the net like a young Orpik.