Plenty has been made this season of Jordan Binnington’s NHL rise and with good reason. The former Rampage netminder has backstopped the Blues to a Western Conference Final with a Calder Trophy-worthy performance. However, Binnington isn’t the only Rampage alum who forced his way into St. Louis Blues this season.
At the start of the 2018-19 campaign, forward Mackenzie MacEachern was ready for his third professional season and was hoping to get a shot to prove himself in the NHL. By season’s end, MacEachern was an NHL regular with the Blues and he remains with the team during their current Stanley Cup playoff run.
“You dream of playing in the NHL as a young boy, so getting the opportunity to play and the chance to stick was a cool experience,” said MacEachern, a third-round pick of the Blues in 2012. “I felt like I grew as a player because you’re playing against the best players around the world each and every day. I think I became more of a complete player.”
After being one of San Antonio’s most dependable two-way forwards earlier in the season, MacEachern’s season took a hit when MacEachern himself took a hit in Rockford. On an open-ice hit from IceHogs defenseman Dennis Gilbert on December 2nd, MacEachern sustained an upper-body injury that would keep him away from game action for 25 days.
When he returned to the lineup on December 27th, MacEachern had an instant impact and saw his offensive numbers surge.
MacEachern netted five goals and eight points in his first seven games back after posting only four goals and seven points in his first 24 contests. The Blues brass noticed the spike and rewarded him with his first call-up on January 10th.
“I was fortunate enough to get opportunities to play and show I could do more than just hit and be physical or protect the puck,” said MacEachern, who had 11 goals in 101 AHL games prior to this season. “I can score when given the opportunity to make plays. I think that’s the thing I’m most thankful for, getting the opportunity to play. It was a new team for [Head Coach Drew Bannister], so it was nice to have a regular shift and get to play with good players.”
MacEachern would play six games with the Blues before returning to San Antonio. He would appear in two games with the Rampage before getting called up by the Blues again, this time for good. It was the beginning of an incredible ride not just for him, but for the Blues as a whole.
“I think I played my first three games and then we went on that 11-game winning streak. It was something I’ve never seen before,” said MacEachern. “There were a lot of moving pieces with a new goalie and fresh faces in the lineup. To see how the guys responded, going from last in the league on January 3rd to being within a point of first place, it’s something special to be a part of.”
The Rampage were resting in their Milwaukee hotel rooms on January 21st, preparing for a game against the Admirals the next day. With the afternoon free, many were crowded around the TV to watch one of their former teammates achieve a priceless career moment – his first NHL goal.
“I was actually on the ice with Jordan Nolan, which was pretty cool too,” said MacEachern while recalling his tally at Staples Center against the LA Kings. “[Vince] Dunn threw the puck to the net and I spun off the defenseman. Luckily I got a nice rebound right there.”
“It felt like time slowed down watching the puck go in. I don’t know if it was because it was actually going that slow or if I was just in the moment.”
MacEachern would post three goals and five points in 29 NHL games with the Blues, earning a one-way NHL contract for next season along the way. He hasn’t appeared in a playoff game this spring, and he realizes this season’s successes are just another step in the process to becoming a permanent fixture in an NHL lineup.
“I think you see how hard you have to work if you want to be a regular in the lineup. Being part of this experience is awesome,” said MacEachern during Game 6 of the Blues’ second-round series with the Dallas Stars.
“I’m going to take it all in, and hopefully when I get in the lineup I can thrive and show I belong and can be a playoff-type player.”
MacEachern wants to spend the summer working on his craft to become a more consistent player. After arriving in San Antonio in October and taking a big career step, MacEachern believes he can take his game and his role up a notch again in St. Louis next October.
“I have to buy into my role. I’m a physical, big guy. I have to take the body and be a fourth-line shutdown guy who is good defensively. When I can chip in offensively, that’ll be awesome.”
“I need to be an all-around player and be consistent every day so they know what they’re getting every game.”