Brampton Battalion centre Brett McKenzie clocks in at #19 on our preseason consensus ranking. McKenzie had a decent draft+2 campaign, finishing with 67 points in as many games to lead the Battalion in scoring. He’s dropped seven spots from where we had him mid-season, but that says more about the influx in talent the Canucks’ system has seen over the past few months than it does about him.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now. Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.
A twenty-year-old scoring a point-per-game in the OHL is nothing new, but it’s till a nice progression from his previous two seasons. There’s also additional contextual factors to consider. The Battalion were an awful team last year, finishing second-to-last overall in the OHL, and finishing in the bottom-three in goals-for. Only one other Battalion player finished with more than 40 points. To put it simply, McKenzie wasn’t getting much help offensively.
McKenzie began the 2016-17 season scoring at a torrid pace, before regressing to almost exactly where the numbers suggested he’d be likely to finish the season. Since being drafted by the Canucks, he’s shown flashes of brilliance, but for the most part he’s progressed at the rate most of us would have expected- in fact, our own Jeremy Davis predicted a drop to a point-per-game pace in an article from October of last year:
“If the question that we were trying to answer is “is Brett McKenzie scoring at a good rate for a guy that’s almost 20?” then the answer is certainly yes, especially when you take his team into consideration. If the question is “Can he continue scoring at that pace?”, then things are a little less rosy.
Despite the evidence that he isn’t relying heavily on teammates or a sky high shooting percentage to rack up points, McKenzie’s current increase in rate of production from draft-plus-one to draft-plus-two is unprecedented, especially for a seventh round pick. You’d have to think his numbers are going to regress towards a point per game by the end of the season[.]”
From a traditional perspective, there’s a lot to like about McKenzie. He’s got an NHL-ready frame at 6’2″ and 192 pounds, which he uses effectively. He’s also an adept skater, using speed and lateral movement to create space rather than using his size to attempt to bowl over opponents. While some of his goal-scoring ability can be attributed to taking advantage of OHL goaltending, McKenzie isn’t afraid to go to the tough areas, and scored the majority of his goals from high-percentage areas of the ice. While he doesn’t have high-end offensive upside, he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses either, and it’s easy to envision a future as an NHL role-player. He’s also reliable and effective in his own zone, for whatever that’s worth at the junior level. In other words, he’s fairly nondescript forward prospect, but there’s some precedence for success that here that should definitely be noted.
The numbers tell the same story, more or less. McKenzie holds a respectable 11.5% expected success percentage via the prospect Graduation Probabilities System. The vast majority of McKenzie’s successful cohorts were either bottom-sixers or replacement-level forwards, but a few managed to become legitimate impact players in their teams’ top six, including Wayne Simmonds and Logan Couture, although it should be noted that both players scored at a much more prolific rate than McKenzie.
I’ve somewhat of a bone to pick with my fellow writers regarding McKenzie, who I had much higher than the consensus in my individual ranking. Perhaps I’ve been too bullish on him simply because of the value he brings to the table relative to where he was picked in the draft, but barely cracking the top 20 list seems like a slight. While McKenzie doesn’t possess anything resembling a “wow” factor, he has all the tools to carve out a bottom-six role in the NHL someday.
McKenzie signed an amateur tryout with the Utica Comets in late March, but was released before playing a game. My best guess is that he’ll ride the pine in Utica next season before getting a shot at a full-time role with the Comets in 2018-19.