The 23-year-old left wing has made an impression so far this preseason, and it goes beyond his one goal and one assist in three games.
“I just think he does a lot of good things inside the game. He does the little things right, and it starts there,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He’s got a good goal-scoring touch, he’s got a physical side to him, so there’s a lot to like about the way he plays and the way he carries himself on the ice.“
The 6-2, 210-pound McKenzie, a sixth-round pick (159th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft, plays a simple game. It’s not always pretty, but it is effective. He creates space, he plays physical and he’ll fight when necessary. And he can provide some offensive pop as well.
“I am just trying to play my game, work hard, be physical and let the opportunities present themselves,” McKenzie said. “Whether it is the season I had behind me and coming in this summer and being here a little more often, I feel a lot more comfortable around the guys and am able to make plays.”
McKenzie is coming off a superb 2013-14 campaign, his first full season of professional hockey. Projected as a bottom six forward for the Texas Stars, McKenzie grabbed a spot on the top line with center Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour and never surrendered it. And he made the most of the opportunity, winning the AHL’s Rookie of the Year award after leading all first-year players with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 75 games. Those 27 goals almost matched his career total at Miami University in Ohio, where he tallied 29 in 158 games over four years.
“I’m not surprised at the season he had with Texas. He’s a pro. He goes to work every day, every night,” said Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “What I found interesting with him is that he was able to stay on the top line all season. You have guys who come into the American League level and they hit some bumps, and the coach moves them up and down the lineup. But Curtis was able to stay with Morin all year. When you do that you know you are having a great season. But it is not a surprise. He has a foundation of work and he has a passion to play.”
McKenzie registered 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 21 playoff games as Texas won the AHL’s Calder Cup. His 11 assists were second on the team and his 60 shots on goal also ranked second.
“It was huge, especially in my first year to get to go on a run like that and win the whole thing,” McKenzie said. “You learn a lot about how hard you have to compete and how well you have to take care of your body to get to the next level and to compete on a daily basis. It was a great opportunity to have in my first year as a pro.”
That long playoff run did present challenges. McKenzie ended up playing more than twice as many hockey games than he had in any of the four seasons at Miami.
“It was definitely a grind, but it was good for me, just the mental aspect to get through a playoff run like that,” McKenzie said. “I think last year with Traverse City (prospect tournament) and exhibition games, I was over 100 games and the years before that I had been playing 40 in college. It was tough on the body, but it was good to go through that process.”
And all that has set him up well for this season. McKenzie came into training camp as a guy most thought could compete for NHL playing time this season and he hasn’t disappointed so far. Whether his time in the NHL comes sooner or later, McKenzie feels he is ready.
“I am confident in my head that I can step in and be a player if they need me right away here,” McKenzie said. “Obviously, I have to let my play show that and let them make the decisions whether the time is now or later in the season, but I am confident I can step in right now.”
The Dallas Stars cut their training camp roster by 14 players Sunday. Here are the transactions.
Assigned to Texas Stars (AHL): G Jack Campbell, F Ludwig Karlsson, G Henri Kiviaho, G Max Lagace, F Taylor Peters, F Gemel Smith, F Matej Stransky, F Branden Troock, D Troy Vance
Assigned to juniors: F Jason Dickinson (Guelph/OHL)
Released from PTO: F Nicolas Blanchard, D Derek Meech, D Maxime Fortunus
Released from ATO: F Derek Hulak
The Stars placed forward Scott Glennie and defenseman Cameron Gaunce on waivers Sunday. Glennie and Gaunce are expected to be assigned to Texas if they clear Monday.
Stars sign prospect Elie to entry-level contract
The Stars announced Sunday that they signed forward Remi Elie to a three-year entry level contract. Elie, a second-round pick (40th overall) in the 2013 Draft, had 68 points (29 goals, 39 assists) in 67 games with both Belleville and London of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
Elie is currently playing with Belleville, where he has three points (one goal, two assists) in two games this season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.