Brett McKenzie has the size, skating ability, skillset and an already polished defensive game. All of that is on display this week at the Canucks Development Camp in Shawnigan Lake.
McKenzie posted 53 points (26-27-53) in 66 games with the OHL’s North Bay Battalion last season. Those statistics don’t necessarily jump out at you until you look at the system he plays in: a stingy defensive style under the coaching tutelage of Stan Butler.
“He has the size and he is in a system with Stan Butler that is very disciplined and very straight forward, but he was able to put up good numbers,” said Canucks Director of Player Development Stan Smyl. “They are not as aggressive as other teams on the forecheck, but I think the numbers he was able to put up with that team was very impressive.”
McKenzie can play centre or wing, but has been mostly used in the middle with North Bay, anchoring their second line.
“I’m a defensive centre that also likes to get up in the rush and score some goals,” said McKenzie. “I played on the second line last year and kind of was in an everything role when I was out there.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is quick to point out that he is a defence first kind of player. He relishes the role of shutting down the top opposing players. This will pay off even more once he turns pro. It’s a lot easier to learn how to play in the defensive zone in junior, rather than pro.
“I’ve always been a defensive type of guy,” said McKenzie, who was drafted 10th overall by North Bay at the 2013 OHL Priority Selection. “I like playing defence and I like playing on the penalty kill, that’s always been in my game.”
However, for a defensively minded player, he sure can score some highlight reel goals as evident on the below video.
Scott Walker, the Canucks player development consultant, first took notice of McKenzie three seasons ago when the former Canucks winger was the head coach of the Guelph Storm, who happened to be facing off against McKenzie and the Battalion during the 2014 OHL Final.
“In junior hockey, if you’re in the championship series and are talking about a 16-year-old on the opposition team, you know he is an impactful player,” said Walker. “He is a big kid, has skill, good puck protection and he skates real well. For me, he is a prototypical pro. He is a real good kid that wants to learn.
“From watching him, his game is the kind of game you want to coach. He’s hard to play against and is difficult for defenceman in front of their own net.”
Walker, who was surprised that McKenzie was still available for the Canucks to take in the seventh round, thinks that the Vars, Ontario product will only get better and better from here on out.
“I think he is just starching the surface of what he can become,” said Walker. “Development Camps like this makes those kids take that next step as they see there is still more they need to do. At the junior level they are good, but then they come here and see the pro guys and the high draft picks and it really pushes them. I think he is the kind of kid that will see that this week and will be really driven to take the next step.”
Part of the drive that sits in McKenzie stems from the 2015 NHL Draft. He made is way down to Sunrise, Florida to take part, hoping to meet the NHL organization that would call his name. But his name was never called.
“I used it mostly as motivation,” said McKenzie. “It was disappointing when it happened, but you have to get over it and start to focus on the next season. It was obviously heartbreaking when you’re sitting there for seven rounds and the last pick goes and you’re not one of them.”
This time around, things were different. He was at his family cottage when they phone rang informing him he was drafted by the Canucks. As they say, the real work starts now. But you don’t need to tell Brett McKenzie that.
“The hard work has just started and that’s what I am looking forward to. My goals next season are to put up bigger numbers and win the Memorial Cup.”