Banner art by Matthew Henderson
Back during the 2010-11 season Kingston Frontenacs defenseman Evan McEneny lost his draft eligible season to injury, and so he appeared to be an intriguing gamble when a previous Vancouver Canucks regime signed him to an entry-level contract.
In the years since, McEneny’s on-ice performance has mostly improved, and he’s been leaned on heavily by his coaches at the OHL level. This past season for example, McEneny continued to post auspicious offensive totals and led all OHL defenseman in estimated time-on-ice per game, according to CHLstats.com.
On the other hand it’s almost never a good sign when an NHL caliber prospect returns to major junior for their overage season, and it would seem that McEneny could be in tough to earn playing time with the Utica Comets this upcoming season. He kicks off our summer prospect profile series, checking in at #20.
In addition to spending his overage season in the OHL, McEneny also burned the first year of his entry-level contract doing so. So the undrafted 21-year-old now only has two years to prove himself worthy of a qualifying offer, and that process will begin in earnest when he attends Utica Comets camp this fall. Actually it will begin before that at the Young Star Tournament in Penticton, but generally speaking, it’s that pro-camp that’s likely to prove crucial for McEneny.
Vancouver’s organizational depth along the blue line is significantly stronger than it was when the club first signed McEneny back in the summer of 2011. Without even considering recent third-round draft picks like Guillame Brisebois and Nikita Tryamkin – both of whom shoot left-handed, we might add – McEneny is going to have to out-duel a coterie of talented left-handed shooters who qualify as Comets hopefuls headed into this upcoming season.
It’s a crowded group that will also include AHL veteran John Negrin, towering prospect Andrey Pedan, 2013 late-round pick Anton Cederholm, University of Maine standout Ben Hutton, and Jim Benning’s own recently signed undrafted overage defenseman in Ashton Sautner. That’s a lot of names competing for only three everyday roster spots, and it stands to reason that McEneny could find himself in the ECHL unless he can turn some heads at Comets camp this fall.
Spending a year in the ECHL at 21 would put a significant dent into McEneny’s hopes to developing into an NHL player, although appearing in his overage season in major junior already accomplished that. Here’s how McEneny’s odds of appearing in 200 NHL games have evolved over the years (remembering that he missed the 2010-11 season with injury). Even though his latest OHL season was his most successful offensively, there just aren’t many 20-year-old OHL blue liners who go on to successful NHL careers…
Graph created by Money Puck
In terms of McEneny’s Prospect Cohort Success model comparables, you’ll find only two somewhat recognizable names: Dan Girardi and Mike Van Ryn.
Perhaps if you’re looking for something to dream on we might note that Van Ryn’s pre-injury profile – a defensively sturdy, puck moving defenseman with excellent passing abilities but not much of a shot – would seem a somewhat close match with what scouts think of McEneny’s abilities. This cohort group includes 52 names though and even hardcore hockey fans have probably only heard of two of that group of 52. That’s a testament to the long odds that McEneny faces if he hopes to carve himself out a niche in the best hockey league in the world…
One thing to note about applying PCS numbers to McEneny is that the Kingston Frontenacs were an unproductive offensive team that converted on a brutally low percentage of their shots for about 57 games last season. In the absence of top Calgary Flames prospect Sam Bennett, the Frontenacs were the fourth worst offensive team in the OHL overall – and even that overstates their struggles, since a good deal of their damage was done in the 11 games Bennett played at the tail end of the year.
The PCS model is based largely on counting stats and should be taken with an additional helping of salt when it comes to a two-way defender on a low scoring team. You’ll hear more about this when we discuss Brisebois later this week. Anyway it’s at least a somewhat positive sign that McEneny contributed to nearly 24 percent of all Frontenacs goals this season, the 10th best rate among all OHL defenseman. It would seem likely that McEneny’s counting stats and his PCS score would look significantly better had he played for a higher scoring team.
In terms of the qualitative side of the game, McEneny was described as ‘ultra-steady’ by Kingston’s local newspaper this season, although we’d expect that of a 20-year-old defenseman facing off mostly against teenage competition.
Here are some highlights from his 2014/15 season, courtesy the indispensable CanucksProspects youtube channel: