Versatility and adaptiveness are key in sports, and in the American Hockey League, that fact comes into play more often than not.
For example, it’s not uncommon for a player to go from playing in the ECHL to the AHL overnight and then back down to the EC, or AHL to National Hockey League and so on and so forth, while playing three games in three nights sometimes even in three different cities. It’s also not uncommon for a player to be asked to play an entirely different position.
You do it because it’s your job and it’s what your bosses ask of you, and you do it for the good of the team.
The latter is exactly what happened for Colorado Eagles defenseman Jacob MacDonald. Early-season call-ups from the Eagles to replace the depth lost by the Colorado Avalanche meant AHL Colorado was handcuffed for players, in particular, forwards.
When the coaching staff approached MacDonald with an opportunity to move up and play forward, it was a no-brainer for both him and the coaching staff.
“We were short on forwards for a couple games there. And we’ve had a pretty good D core here so that was kind of an easy switch,” MacDonald said of his moving from D to forward. “I’ve played it before, not as a professional, but as a kid and that’s kind of how I got into playing hockey. It’s been there from the start. It was kind of an easy choice to make me a forward for a little while.”
As a result, the 27-year-old defenseman-turned-forward is having one of the best years of his professional career. MacDonald currently leads all AHL D-men in goals and is fourth in the league in points among his defensive counterparts. He’s one point shy of his point total from last year with the Springfield Thunderbirds and is just a few goals shy of his career-best 20, despite playing a dozen-and-a-half games fewer.
MacDonald’s 16 goals at the current pause in the season is the most by an Eagles defenseman since joining the AHL last year, and is the most by a franchise D-men since Matt Register tallied 18 goals during Colorado’s first ECHL Kelly Cup-winning season of 2016-17.
It’s been an interesting — albeit, exciting — change up for MacDonald.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s definitely a little bit different,” MacDonald said. “You’re responsibilities in all three zones are a little different, so making that adjustment took a couple games at the start but I thought I kind of just rolled with it and I just do my best to kind of have fun and go out there and play.”
Eagles head coach Greg Cronin has more than appreciated MacDonald’s services this year and raved about his player’s offensive prowess.
“He’s got really good offensive instincts,” Cronin said of his defenseman-turned-forward. “Mac is one of those guys that is actually consistent. He knows he can shoot it — if you watch him play, he can shoot it. He’s heavy; he’s a strong player; he can skate.”
The fact that MacDonald was willing and able to change his position to help the team out when it was needed is something his coach also admires about him.
The feeling seems to be mutual between Cronin and MacDonald, who said the thing he appreciates most about his coach here in Colorado is his attention to detail, which is something that’s helped the new forward have statistically one of his best years as a pro.
“For me, personally, it comes down to the detail. Everyone has their individual things that they need to work on to make it to the next level. He’s able to read that pretty quickly with guys,” MacDonald said of coach Cronin. “For me, at the start, he’s really delved into the details and for me that’s the most important thing. That constant repetition in practice is huge and he’s been able to do that.”
That is one of the reasons why he’s having one of his best statistical seasons yet. Well, that, and the obvious of having more offensive chances that comes with being a forward.
“Definitely more offensive opportunity as a forward obviously, right, it goes with the territory,” MacDonald added of his boost in production. “But just confidence a little bit early on and I think as of late it’s grown and I think that’s a huge part about it.”
Now, with the AHL season on pause for the immediate future — and a lot of uncertainty about whether or not the league will even return at all this year — it’s unfortunate MacDonald may not have the chance to top his career-bests. He was at least certainly on pace to do so.
Whether the league returns to finish out the season or not, there’s one thing won’t change about MacDonald: His willingness to help his team out in any way possible.
“Mac is one of those guys that’s easy to coach because he’s honest with himself, he’s a team-first guy and he works on his weaknesses religiously,” Cronin added.
“He’s a coach’s dream.”