At 5-foot-7.5 and 165 pounds, T.J. Tynan may be short in stature, but he is way long in talent. The Des Moines Buccaneer center, in his rookie USHL season and in his draft season, was among the leagues top three scorers with 10 goals and 32 assists in 27 games entering the league's Christmas break. Skating on a line with Connor Brickley (also in his rookie year and his draft year) and H.T. Lenz, both at even strength and on the powerplay, Tynan has demonstrated his offensive vision game after game with his knack for threading passes through traffic from the half boards on the attack or when set up in the offensive zone, even to players only on the edges of his expansive peripheral vision. When Tynan isn't setting up teammates, he's using his speed, quickness, agility, and stickhandling prowess to undress opponents and creating his own chances.
Not since Omaha's Paul Stastny has a USHLer in his draft year put up numbers like Tynan is on pace to put up in 2009-10. Stastny scored 77 points (30 goals and 47 assists) in 56 games and was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and has gone on to a decent NHL career (understatement, he was just named to the U.S. Olympic team). While NHL teams have generally disregarded small forwards out of the USHL, Tynan's speed, skill, offensive awareness, and tenacious forechecking should help him blaze a trail for small forwards out of the USHL, because it's hard to believe all 30 NHL teams will decide to pass on Tynan come June at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey was able to talk with Des Moines Buccaneer center T.J. Tynan as the USHL entered the Christmas Break. Tynan discussed his exceptional 2009-10 to date, playing for Team USA, his youth hockey in Chicago, his commitment to Notre Dame, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and his favorite players from yesterday and today.
McKeen's: We're not technically there in terms of number of games, but, after tonight, we're at the halfway point of the season. So, how do you feel your season has gone up to the halfway point?
Tynan: I think it's gone great. I obviously didn't think I was going to have this much success coming right to the USHL, but it's been great and I'm having a lot of fun.
McKeen's: What have been the biggest adjustments for you coming into the USHL game and at what point did you begin to feel comfortable with the USHL game and doing some of the offensive damage you've been doing the opponents each night?
Tynan: Well, everyone's a little bigger and a little faster than in Triple-A last year. I think the preseason really helped me and my linemates to get going. The second game of the year, I think we scored four or five goals or something, and I think that's what got us going.
McKeen's: For those who haven't seen you play, what would you say are the strengths of your game and the style that you play?
Tynan: Well, I think I'm quick to the puck and I like to be creative and pretty much make plays with the people on my line. I'm not necessarily the person that's going to score all the goals, but I'll be setting other people up so it's not as hard for them to score the goals.
McKeen's: With the creativity, you had a nice move to yourself that I got a kick out of. You had a backhand spin, pass to yourself?
Tynan: Yeah (smiles)
McKeen's: ? I liked that, it was nice. You're one of the top offensive forces in the USHL so far this year and you're on pace to have a pretty special season. What would you say are the keys skill-wise and mentally that allow you to do that?
Tynan: I don't really know. I mean, my linemates help me a lot. Connor Brickley, H.T. Lenz, they're so fun to play with. They make it so easy. They work really hard, and I think I can attribute a lot of my success to them, actually. We've just got to keep it going.
McKeen's: What are some of the things that you've done over the years to develop your skating, your stick skills, and your offensive vision?
Tynan: Well, actually, in my basement, I have like a little roller hockey rink. So, I'm always stickhandling. I've got a little brother who I always have play goal and shoot on him. I stickhandle a lot. That's pretty much how I've kept it going.
McKeen's: How big is the basement?
Tynan: It's not that big. But, I guess the tight spaces help me.
McKeen's: I've heard people playing hockey in the basement, but not quite with the setup that you have.
McKeen's: On the flipside, what would you say are the areas of your game that you're focusing on improving with the Bucs and the areas that you feel you need to focus on so that you can keep this up in college and in pro?
Tynan: Oh, I want to get my defensive game a little better. I don't think I'm an even or plus right now, I think I'm a little minus. So, I want to get that going, and get my strength up. Obviously, I'm a younger a kid, so I need to get my strength up and that'll help me a lot.
McKeen's: In August you played for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. How did you learn you'd been named to that team and what was your reaction?
Tynan: Well, coach [Eric] Rud actually called me right when I got home off the plane from St. Cloud, err, no, Rochester. He called me and asked, "Do you want to play?" I said, "Absolutely." It was a lot of fun. I met some of my good friends on the team. Connor Brickley was on the team, and he's one of my good friends and a teammate.
McKeen's: How do you feel the tournament went for you?
Tynan: It was a little disappointing. We got fourth, which, I think we could have gotten a lot better, maybe gold or silver. But, it was a lot of fun, and no complaints.
McKeen's: Having played in that, did you have hopes, I guess, of playing at the World Junior A Challenge and were you disappointed when you weren't named to it?
Tynan: Well, I mean, it's obviously great to play for that, but if you're not picked, as coach [Mike] Guentzel was telling me, just get better. That's all you can do. You can either sit there and whine about it or you can just try and to get better, and that's what I tried to do.
McKeen's: Yeah, in that offensive role, they decided to go with a little more experience.
McKeen's:Matt Leitner kind of equated to you in that regard.
Tynan: Yeah, he's a little bit older.
McKeen's: And they seem to have picked the right team.
Tynan: Yeah. They won (chuckles), can't complain about that.
McKeen's: Going back to the beginning of your hockey career, when did you first start playing and how did you get that start?
Tynan: Well, some of the kids in the neighborhood that were one or two years older than me started playing, and I was about four years old and I told my dad I wanted to play hockey. He was like, because no one in our family had ever played hockey, he was like, "Are you serious?" I was, "Yeah." He's, "Okay. Fine," and I've just gone from there, I guess.
McKeen's: For what organizations did you skate for at the different age levels?
Tynan: Well, I've played my whole Triple-A career with the Chicago Mission. All the coaches are so great. If I could tell any young kid where to go, it would be there. They develop you so well. They have so many good coaches. That's where I spent my whole career.
McKeen's: How old were you when you started with the Mission?
Tynan: Oh, God (pauses), I played eight years there.
Tynan: Whatever that ends up.
McKeen's: That's almost kind of rare for the guys I talk to from around the Chicago area.
McKeen's: They're normally like, "I played a year for the Mission, then over to TI, then back to the Mission, then went to CYA, or something like that."
Tynan: Yeah, I don't know why they do that. I mean, I stayed there and it's a lot of fun. So, I don't know.
McKeen's: You're committed to Notre Dame, but I haven't seen whether it'll be next year, the 2010-11 season, or if it'll start in 2011-12. So, have you made a decision yet as to when that'll be?
Tynan: It's actually their decision, whichever they want, and I'm fine with whatever they want. If they make me come back here, that's fine with me. All it'll do is I'll be a better college player when I get there. If I come in next year, that's great, too. But, whatever they want, I'm happy with.
McKeen's: I was looking at their roster (pauses), they have some seniors, but not a lot.
Tynan: Yeah. I mean, they have a lot of good young players, Kyle Palmieri, Riley Sheehan, a lot of good players. So, whatever they want is fine with me.
McKeen's: You're not the only one choosing Notre Dame these days.
Tynan: Yeah (slight chuckle)
McKeen's: They have a very impressive recruiting class for next year, featuring a lot of the guys from the U.S. National Development Program, but a lot of other really good players, too. What do you think it is that's helping Notre Dame really step it up?
Tynan: Their coaches are unbelievable. I love what they do, their systems, they're really good with that. They just do a really good job of promoting the campus. It's an amazing campus. They're getting a new rink in 2011, and I actually grew up with Kevin Lind and Garrett Peterson, who committed there. We were born in the same town and we played together when we were younger. So, it's good.
McKeen's: I imagine Jeff Jackson's ties to Team USA may still come in handy.
Tynan: Yeah, maybe.
McKeen's: Despite tearing up the USHL, CSS didn't have you in their Top 25. What else do you think you might have to prove to at least make it on their list?
Tynan: You know? I don't know. All I can do is work hard. If they don't pick me, if I don't get drafted, fine with me. All I'll have to do is work harder. You can just sit there and whine about it, you've just got to better. I've got to get bigger, and that's all.
McKeen's: Every year they have someone really good left off. A couple years ago it was Matt Donovan, and I was like, "Are you nuts?" I wouldn't worry about it too much. It is one service and there are others and 30 teams.
Tynan: Yeah, yeah.
McKeen's: With that, have NHL teams, that you're aware of, expressed interest in you, with the questionnaires and whatnot?
Tynan: Well, I think everyone on our team filled out the questionnaires and stuff. I remember some teams like me, but I don't have an advisor. I never wanted one. I don't know, so I don't really know. I know some teams want me, but I don't know which ones or how many or how much they want me. I just know they've been talking to some of my teammates and they've said my name or something. So, whatever happens, happens.
McKeen's: That answered what would have been my next question, so for the final question, to round things out, who were some of your favorite players growing up and why and maybe some players today that you feel you're similar to or that you'd like to equate to?
Tynan: When I was little, Joe Sakic was my favorite player. I don't even know why. I just loved to watch him play, the way he shot the puck and everything. Then, today, I love the Chicago Blackhawks, so I love Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They're some of my favorite players, too.
McKeen's: Is the 19 for Sakic (Tynan wears 19 for Des Moines)?
Tynan: Yeah, I think so (said in a way that indicates it's a coincidence).