When Rutger McGroarty came in for his interview with the Winnipeg Jets ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft, he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve.
“I’m really proud to be a mature kid, and I feel like I went into the interview knowing what I wanted to convey,” McGroarty said. “I had the right answers. I walked in with a smile on my face, shook their hands and looked into their eyes, and I felt like that’s definitely something that shaped them.”
Mission accomplished. The Jets selected the Nebraska native with the number 14 pick in the draft.
“He plays the game hard and he answers the questions hard,” said Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. “It’s one of those things that, in turn, makes it exciting as an organization to design a player with those qualities.
“Obviously in the interview process he was great. The questions we asked and the way he answered them and the way he plays the game is consistent.”
That consistency, McGroarty said, comes from growing up in a hockey household. His Canadian-born father began coaching in the United States Hockey League in 2003, including 11 seasons at Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Jim McGroarty is now entering his fourth season as general manager of Muskegon in the USHL.
“Having grown up in a USHL locker room, I feel like I’ve matured a lot quicker than other kids,” McGroarty said. “Just being a kid from Nebraska…when it’s time for work, you better come ready to go.”
It’s that attitude and work ethic that won the Jets over.
“I think you really have to look at the intangibles when you look at a player like McGroarty,” Cheveldayoff said. “There are probably some people who are better skaters, more skilled. But if you look at his numbers in the different leagues he has played in, he has scored 50 goals. This with the kind of attitude and the kind of character and the kind of toughness he’s got, man, I think that smile on his face that came to our table (on draft) is going to stick around for a long, long time burn into my memory. That was real. That was real. That’s what he’s all about.”
The forward, who will play for the University of Michigan this season, finished fourth on the USA Hockey National Team Development Program under-18 team with 69 points (35 goals, 34 assists) and third with six power play goals in 54 games. He led the United States in second place with eight goals and 34 shots in six games at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
McGroarty (6ft, 200lbs) is the highest-drafted player in the NHL to come from Nebraska and the first since the Pittsburgh Penguins were selected Jake Guentzel (No. 77 in the 2013 NHL draft), whose father also coached in the USHL in Omaha.
McGroarty is also the first Nebraska native to play for the NTDP and said he is proud to come from a non-traditional hockey market.
“It just shows if you work hard enough and really compete every time you’re out there… (Scouts) will find you,” McGroarty said. “If you can knock your opponent off the ice then you are physically better prepared on the ice. On the ice, I would just say (I have) this feeling that I don’t care who I’m kicking. I will beat you.”
“I’m ready to do anything.”