Steve Thornton: Mark McCutcheon can inspire Belfast Giants
Steve Thornton has challenged Mark McCutcheon to show the rest of the Elite League why he made the former Colorado Avalanche draft pick his first new signing of his second spell as Belfast Giants coach.
Injuries have ruined the 30-year-old's first five months at the Odyssey Arena. He has played only 11 of the Giants' 26 domestic games, scoring just one goal - although he did appear in both rounds of the team's Continental Cup adventure.
McCutcheon is now edging towards full fitness and although Thornton would have liked to have had him available all the way through, with eight games in 15 nights, including three in succession this weekend - starting against Coventry Blaze at the Odyssey tonight and tomorrow - the timing of his return is great for the team.
And the fans now want to see the kind of impact they expected after he scored within seconds of his first appearance in pre-season against the Cardiff Devils.
"He went from scoring on his first shift to being injured almost straight away," said Thornton.
"Then he came back and was only playing at a percentage because other guys were injured.
"Last weekend was the best we've seen him play.
"I like him in the centre, I think he's at his best in the middle of the ice gliding through rather than battling up against the boards.
"I was very happy with how he played last weekend, but I think he has another level - as do several of the guys in the team - and this would be a good time of the season for him to produce that."
McCutcheon is just one of a number of Giants players who have been hit by the team's injury jinx this season.
Mark Garside and Kevin Saurette remain out this weekend and it will be around two months before goaltender Stephen Murphy is seen in action again.
Curtis Huppe is still training with the team and he will provide injury cover if needed, but at present the Giants have a full compliment of imports available so his return after seven years away is on ice.
A three-game losing streak saw the Giants slip to fifth in the Elite League standings, but the spark was back when they beat the Nottingham Panthers last weekend and Thornton is demanding the same level of performance when they face Coventry and then the Edinburgh Capitals between now and Sunday.
"The guys know where I stand and what I expect from them," he said.
"We haven't had all three lines going at the same time all season, but we created a lot of chances in Hull despite losing and that's what I'm looking for."