Size. Smooth skating. Slick shooter.
Alll things you love to hear about a prospect, and all things that have been used to describe Evan “Public” McEneny’s game. So it goes without saying that the former undrafted free agent signing by the Mike Gillis regime – which was known to have a knack for extracting value via that avenue, making up for the abysmal draft record – has quite a substantial amount of upside.
Of course, we’ve ranked him as the 18th best prospect in the team’s system, and there’s valid reasons for that, as well.
You see a healthy dose of those aforementioned tantalizing traits in this highlight pack of McEneny’s top moments from this past season, put together by the invaluable ‘Canucks Prospects’ on Youtube:
Given that this is McEneny’s first cameo in our annual prospect profile series, some backstory is needed. Now listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds McEneny was something of a scouts’ darling heading into the 2011-12 season with the Kitchener Rangers, his age-17 season.
All of that pre-season hype was quickly wiped away though, after McEneny blew out his knee, ending his season just 2 games in. That was enough to scare all 30 NHL teams away, leaving him undrafted and available as a low-risk, high-upside asset that was ripe for the taking.
At the time, Brock Otten of OHLProspects remained quite high on McEneny despite the setback:
“I remain steadfast in my opinion that had he played this year, McEneny would be in consideration for the top two rounds of the draft. He was impressive defensively as a 16 year old rookie, and it was clear through the preseason games and the first two games of the OHL season, that McEneny had added an offensive punch to his game. He’s got size, mobility, physicality, and offensive potential from the back end. But he also suffered a season ending knee injury limiting his exposure to two games this year. If I was an NHL team, I’d take a flyer on him with a 7th round pick and hope he recovers well.”
The Canucks did him one better, signing him to an entry-level contract after being impressed by his showing at the 2012 summer development camp. It’s a funny indictment of the draft process, that teams are essentially willing to burn 7th round picks on players who will never even see a glimmer of the light of day – the last 7th rounder to play an NHL game for the Canucks was Mario Bliznak (2005, 6 games) – but will just wait on a guy such as McEneny and attempt to sign him post-draft. For whatever it’s worth, the Canucks took college-bound forward Matt Beattie 207th overall that summer. Wait, who?
Fast forward to this past season, which saw McEneny get traded from a Kitchener team entering a full rebuild to Doug Gilmour’s scrappy Kingston Frontenacs squad, led by Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson. McEneny jumped straight into Kingston’s top four on the blueline immediately, and really flourished in the more conducive environment, continuing on the steady upward progression we’ve seen from him since debuting in the OHL at 16.
Less than a month before he was traded last Fall, McEneny was profiled by the Kitchener Rangers site. Most of the resulting interview was expectedly fairly run-of-the-mill, but two things did stand out. First, he pointed to the rehabilitation of his knee as teaching him how hard he really could work. Second, he talked about how useful it was to have ex-NHL defenseman Mike van Ryn as an assistant coach in Kitchener.
Coupled with the experience of being at the 2013 Canucks training camp – along with being Frank Corrado’s regular blueline partner back in 2012-13 – McEneny seems pretty aware of what needs to improve in his game and how he can take advantage of the experience of others to do so. Getting to hone his craft under Frontenacs head coach, Todd Gill (he of the 1000+ NHL games of experience manning the back-end), surely served as another useful exercise for McEneny.
The most encouraging trend of all that stemmed from the 2013-14 season for McEneny was the noticeable improvement on the offensive end of the game. In 61 games between Kitchener and Kingston, he scored 7 goals and 35 points. The 0.76 points-per-game he registered after being traded to Kingston was a marked increase from the ~0.5 ppg he had managed during his time in Kitchener previously. As a result, McEneny wound up looking quite respectable in the NHL Equivalency Numbers, finishing behind only Ben Hutton amongst Canucks prospect defensemen.
There’s nothing overly flashy about Evan McEneny, but by all accounts he not only seems to do a lot of things well, he also appears to be readily improving after having overcome that disastrous draft-season. Whether he’ll be able to continue progressing to the point where he makes it to the NHL, sticks, and possibly even eventually becomes a Chris Tanev-type diamond in the rough, however, remains to be seen. It’ll probably be some time before we get the answer to that question, which was baked into his suppressed ranking on this list.
But in reality, everything will be gravy coming from an asset that every single team in the league passed up on numerous occasions.