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Hard work pays off for McKenzie

Stars forward earns one-year, $700,000 contract extension

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

This has been a big season for Curtis McKenzie, his first full one in the NHL. And while he has worked hard to make the most of the opportunity, he's also spent time wondering about what the future might hold. He got the answer Thursday when the team offered him a contract extension. On Friday, it became official. It was a one-year deal worth $700,000.

"It's nice, for sure," said McKenzie, who was scheduled to be a restricted free agent. "This whole year is kind of been wondering what was going to happen for next season. So, I was pretty happy when they offered it to me yesterday. It's definitely nice to have that in the back pocket for next year."

McKenzie has played in 43 games this season, recording 18 points (seven goals, eleven assists) and a plus-seven rating. He ranks second on the team in fighting majors with seven.

"It's been a good year for him," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "He's played a physical role for us, and he's done a good job killing penalties. He combines offense with grit, and he's a guy that will stand up to anybody on the ice for us. Coming from the American League, and doing so well down there to fitting in here, he's done a nice job."

McKenzie sees it as a little bit of an up and down season. He's had a hard time cracking the lineup at times. He's sat out 22 games as a healthy scratch this season, which can make it hard to get rolling. But his play has given him a shot of confidence.

"It's been a little different than I probably drew up," McKenzie said. "I think there are few more games I'd like to be playing in, but I think I have been playing well when I have had the opportunities. Now, going into next season I know I can play here. I feel like I am an NHL player. I am excited for next season to come along and be part of the team again."

McKenzie put up some good numbers in the AHL, scoring 27 goals in his first season (2013-14) and winning the AHL's Rookie of the Year award. He tallied 24 last season. He's been primarily a fourth-line player in the NHL, but Ruff said it will take time to see where McKenzie eventually fits.

"The player will find that spot," Ruff said. "He's played up the lineup at times, and typically he has been on the killing side. He hasn't had the power play time with the level of skill we've had here. That's a big change for a guy coming out of the American League. He's a guy that I've thought about giving him a chance in front of the net (on the power play), the net-front guy and it still may happen here coming to the end of the year."

McKenzie, 26, took a long path to the NHL after the Stars drafted him in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Draft. He played four years at Miami University in Ohio and then three seasons in the AHL, including some NHL call-ups, before cracking the NHL on a full-time basis this season.

"It's been the work ethic to get here and bide my time," McKenzie said. "It's nice to get here and get rewarded for it."

Practice Notes: Maintenance for Hemsky

Stars forward Ales Hemsky didn't practice Friday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said it was a maintenance day for Hemsky, who is experiencing some soreness after playing in four games since returning from hip surgery that had kept him out of the lineup since late October.

"Coming off what he's coming off, he's got some soreness, and we are trying to give him some extra time to recover," Ruff said. "I don't think there is any easy process for him. We are going to see how he is going game to game."

Stars sign goaltender Landon Bow to entry-level deal

The Stars signed goaltender Landon Bow to a two-year entry-level contract Friday. Bow, who was undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, signed an AHL contract with the Texas Stars for this season. The 21-year-old has played with both Texas and Idaho (ECHL) this season. He currently ranks second in the ECHL in both goals against (2.15) and save percentage (.933).

"He's come in and had a great season," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "He's gone to the ECHL, and he's No. 2 in the league there. It's a good story to show perseverance, hard work and he's earned a contract because of it. He's got the tools. He has to continue to work hard. The opportunity is there."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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