Stars Prospect Curtis McKenzie Shines in First Pro Season

Friday, 05.9.2014 / 2:17 PM CT / Inside Edge
By Mark Stepneski
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Stars Prospect Curtis McKenzie Shines in First Pro Season

Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins admitted he was surprised by the offensive numbers that rookie forward Curtis McKenzie put up this season. The numbers surprised McKenzie, too.

“I had confidence I could come in and be an impact player, but not at that expectation,” McKenzie said. “I think I exceeded what I was looking for this year, which is good.”

He was better than just good, winning the American Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year award after leading all first year players in scoring with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 75 games. He ranked ninth among all players in the league in points.

Not bad for a guy who in four years at Miami University (Ohio) registered 80 points (29 goals, 51 assists) in 158 games played.

“I was surprised. I don’t know if he was in the top 100 in the NCAA in scoring. He didn’t put up big points in the NCAA,” said Desjardins. “Last year when he came in (at the end of the season) you could see he was a guy who enjoyed playing the game. He had fun. But I didn’t expect those kinds of numbers.”

It didn’t hurt that McKenzie ended up playing left wing on Texas’ top line with center Travis Morin and right wing Colton Sceviour this season. Morin led the league in scoring and took home the AHL’s MVP honors. Sceviour was the AHL’s top goal scorer until he was called up to Dallas in March.

“They are exceptional players at this level,” McKenzie said. “I just tried to win battles and get them the puck as much as I could.”

The 23-year-old McKenzie, listed at 6-2, 210 pounds, turned out to be a good fit.

“He really complemented that line,” said Desjardins. “They needed a physical player, they needed a guy that was going to the net, so he fit right in with Morin and Sceviour.”

“He stays within himself. He doesn’t try to do too much,” said Morin. “He’s a hardworking kid and he did a great job working down low all year. He did a lot of the dirty work for me and Scevs when Scevs was here. With [Brendan Ranford] on our line now he still goes to the front of the net, he’s there on the power play, he goes into the corner and hits. He’s a physical presence on our line and he isn’t afraid to stand up for guys and drop the gloves if he has to. He has good enough hands to make plays and good enough speed to beat guys and he’s got a good shot.”

The British Columbia native never scored more than one goal in a game during his four years of college hockey, but he had one hat trick and two other multi-goal games in his first full professional season.

“I thought I could eventually get to be a top six guy, but I didn’t think it would be right away,” McKenzie said. “I got an opportunity to play with Morin and Sceviour and that helped me a lot. I thought I was going to have to grind it out a bit on the bottom six and work my way up.”

The Dallas Stars drafted McKenzie in the sixth round (159th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft out of the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. He spent those four years at Miami, and when his senior campaign came to an end he joined the Texas Stars late last season, and he believes that helped set the stage for his stellar 2013-14 campaign.

“That was huge for my development, I think,” he said. “Just being here, even though I wasn’t playing a lot, being around the guys, getting a taste of the American League and what it takes to play here, I incorporated a lot of that into my summer training. I knew what I had to improve and what I had to do to become an impact player at this level.”

And he knows there will need to be more improvements to make it to the next level. McKenzie has watched the Dallas Stars, and knows that speed is the name of the game with the parent club. That’s an area he wants to focus on this offseason, along with other parts of his game.

“My foot speed and speed overall is something I will be working on this summer because it’s another jump up there for the speed,” McKenzie said. “Work on scoring and everything I can this summer. I’ll be working with a skills coach, so that should help.”

McKenzie’s already taken a big step forward in his development this season, a step that nobody really saw coming.

“Being voted the Rookie of the Year says a lot for him,” said Desjardins. “He’s put up lots of points, but he is more than that. He is a physical player and he brings lots of energy. He’s a guy that always wants to get better. He is always looking for ways to improve. It’s great that he had the year he had.”

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.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 CHI 57 36 17 4 158 130 76
2 DAL 54 34 15 5 174 145 73
3 STL 56 30 17 9 133 130 69
4 LAK 52 32 17 3 144 119 67
5 SJS 52 28 20 4 149 138 60
6 ANA 52 26 19 7 117 122 59
7 NSH 54 25 21 8 139 144 58
8 COL 56 27 25 4 149 155 58
9 MIN 53 23 20 10 130 130 56
10 ARI 52 24 22 6 138 161 54
11 VAN 53 21 20 12 123 143 54
12 CGY 52 24 25 3 138 151 51
13 WPG 53 24 26 3 137 151 51
14 EDM 55 21 29 5 133 166 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Benn 54 28 33 16 61
T. Seguin 54 28 30 11 58
J. Klingberg 54 9 35 15 44
J. Spezza 52 18 22 5 40
P. Sharp 54 16 24 -1 40
A. Goligoski 54 4 20 17 24
C. Eakin 54 10 13 1 23
M. Janmark 54 10 10 13 20
J. Demers 48 7 12 16 19
V. Nichushkin 51 6 13 7 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 20 10 5 .908 2.52
K. Lehtonen 14 5 0 .909 2.82
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