The latest in a series on some of the top prospects of the Dallas Stars profiles forward Curtis McKenzie, who had a strong season with the Texas Stars of the AHL in 2015-16.
McKenzie registered 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 61 games, leading Texas in goal scoring and ranking second in points.
“He had a good season there,” said Dallas Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “In a lot of ways, he’s like a lot of young guys in that down there he plays in the top six, and he gathers up responsibilities that are good for that level, but for him to play at the NHL level, he has to be a good bottom six. That’s playing in the detail areas, playing hard and playing gritty. He’s always had that. I think this year was one of his better years down there because he knows he is close to the NHL and he played the style down there that’s going to help him have a better chance at the NHL.”
Still, there were some ups and downs for McKenzie. He was the final player cut from Dallas’ roster in training camp and was assigned to the AHL just days before the NHL season began.
“It’s tough but at the same time I am going to a spot where I am going to be playing a lot,” McKenzie said. “It’s a far better position than being up here if I was the 14th forward and not playing at all. At least I am getting to play hockey.”
Dallas recalled him less than a week into the season when Patrick Eaves went on injured reserve, but McKenzie suffered a lower-body injury when he was hit from behind by Tampa Bay defenseman Nikita Nesterov in his first NHL game of the season. The NHL suspended Nesterov for two games and McKenzie missed one month before heading back to the AHL, where he ended up staying most of the season. McKenzie said the extended time in Cedar Park had its advantages.
“This year it was a lot more stationary, so that helped quite a bit. Last year, by the end of the year I was so mentally burned out with all the ups and downs,” said McKenzie, who was involved in 15 transactions between the NHL and AHL in 2014-15. “This year, I was more in one spot, and I think that helped improve my game. I got healthy down there, and I gained a lot of confidence being one of the big role guys, so it was good.”
After getting back up to speed, McKenzie was an offensive force for Texas. His first goal of the season didn’t come until November 29, but he ended up scoring 24 goals in his final 54 games for Texas. There was a second call-up to the NHL in February and he played in two games. He played in one NHL playoff game as well, the first of his career. McKenzie, a sixth-round pick (159th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, has played a total of 39 NHL games the past two seasons – 36 of them in 204-15 – recording five points (four goals, one assist).
The 25-year-old British Columbia native, the AHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, has registered 142 points (57 goals, 85 assists) in 172 games with the Texas Stars. Next season will be his fourth full one as a pro, and he is expected to be in the the mix for an NHL spot.
“He’s gritty, plays for teammates and he works hard. He’s right around it now,” said Jackson. “It will be interesting to see how he goes next year. There’s going to be a good opportunity for him.”
Curtis McKenzie 2015-16 Statistics
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.
|Texas Stars ||AHL ||61 ||24 ||31 ||55 ||+11 ||120 |
|Texas Stars ||AHL (Playoffs) ||4 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||0 ||8 |
|Dallas Stars ||NHL ||3 ||0 ||0 ||0 ||-1 ||0 |
|Dallas Stars ||NHL (Playoffs) ||1 ||0 ||0 ||0 ||0 ||5 |