On February 5, 2017, Evan McEneny played his first NHL game. He logged just over 15 minutes in a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. To date, he hasn’t gotten another look.
It sounds like just another footnote in Canucks history, like Lee Sweatt or Joacim Eriksson; but his appearance was not without fanfare. At the time, some fans and media expressed frustration that a relative unknown was getting his chance over then-highly-touted prospect Jordan Subban.
Just over a year out, it looks like the team may have gotten it right. McEneny was Utica’s best defender last season, while Subban has struggled to make a name for himself since being traded to the LA Kings organization.
McEneny looked like a prime candidate to earn an extended call-up this season, but unfortunately, he sustained a season-ending knee injury after a hit on November 15, 2017 by Laval Rocket forward Nicolas Deslauriers. It’s the second time in his career a lower-body injury has cost him a development year. A projected mid-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, McEneny tore his ACL three games into the season and was subsequently signed as an undrafted free agent later that summer.
It won’t be an easy road ahead for McEneny, but he’s risen to the challenge before and shown enough promise to clock in at number 12 on our midterm rankings.
A two-way defenseman, Evan McEneny has a versatile toolkit and likely has more to show offensively than his modest point totals would indicate. Jeremy Davis covered McEneny’s attributes at length in a piece last season, just prior to his Canucks debut:
McEneny has always been known as a puck-moving two-way defenceman. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he’s got size on his side. He’s a very good skater, a displays excellent vision on the ice, couple with excellent passing, which can be hard and accurate when necessary…
While McEneny doesn’t have a bomb of a shot like Jordan Subban does, he has a knack for getting it through to the net, and he shoots the puck a lot…
As an offensive defenceman, he’s somewhere between Subban and Troy Stecher in terms of power, but shares their ability to control the play from the blue line, albeit with a little more steadiness and less flash.
McEneny has shown that zone breakouts are a strength of his, and in that area he might have an advantage over Subban. Whereas Subban is more of a rusher, McEneny plays more of a quarterback role on breakouts. He possesses the speed to move quickly through open spaces, but leaves himself the appropriate amount of room to make the smart play – something Subban has struggled with this year. That McEneny is typically a safer breakout player has likely played a role in his taking over the first power play unit. He’s skates well, but just as importantly, he skates smart, and rarely into trouble that he can’t get himself out of.
Rush defence is another area that he has excelled in. His gap control is consistently reliable, and he is able to use his large frame to quickly take opponents off the puck and out of the play.
McEneny’s puck skills, skating, and calmness under pressure earned him the trust of then-Utica Comets head coach Travis Green; essentially playing his way into a role as the team’s top defenseman in the process. That trend looked to be continuing this season, as he had 7 points in 11 games before his knee injury.
It’s early to project what the Canucks roster will look like next season, but things are looking pretty crowded on the blue line. The Canucks are committed to all their regular defenders next season, and Olli Juolevi is expected to push for a spot as well. One thing that could help McEneny’s case for a call-up in the inevitable event of an injury is that he can play both sides of the ice and look comfortable doing it. He carried Ashton Sautner for much of the 2016-17 season, and Sautner played his first game not too long ago. It’s not unreasonable to think McEneny could see some NHL action next season under similar circumstances.