When the Flames announced their roster for development camp a couple weeks ago, one of the most interesting invitees was Jeremy McKenna. The Flames were familiar with McKenna, being the captain of the Moncton Wildcats and linemate of first-round pick Jakob Pelletier. He was one of the most dominant players in the QMJHL last season scoring 97 points in just 68 games, and adding 12 points in 11 playoff games.
As an overager, he was given very little consideration as a potential draftee in 2019, but after a good showing at development camp, McKenna was signed to an AHL contract yesterday. It’s a nice break for a prospect who didn’t have things go his way. For the Flames, McKenna could prove to be a great gamble signing, and could be a standout in the AHL.
Who is Jeremy McKenna?
McKenna is a 1999 born right-shooting right-winger. He was born in Canmore, AB, a stone’s throw from Calgary, but grew up in Summerside, PEI. As a 14-year-old, he led the PEI Bantam AAA circuit in scoring, prompting a move to Saskatchewan to play for the Notre Dame Hounds at various levels.
He was selected in the fifth round of the QMJHL draft in 2015, but spent his 16-year-old season playing on a team in Austria with his childhood friend Noah Dobson.
Coincidentally, Dobson was selected in the 2018 Draft by the New York Islanders with the draft pick sent from Calgary in the Travis Hamonic trade. In 2016, McKenna was drafted 119th in the eighth round by the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL Entry Draft, but opted to play in the CHL as a 17 year-old.
McKenna was first eligible to be selected in the 2017 NHL Draft, but after a lacklustre 16 goal, 26 point campaign in his first season in Moncton, he was not selected. The Wildcats were the worst team in the QMJHL that season, finishing with just 14 wins and 31 points, 12 wins and 25 points lower than the second worst team; after the trade deadline, McKenna was the highest scorer on the roster.
It was an unfortunate situation for McKenna. Without a supporting cast to help him, and being a smaller player at 5′-10″ and 174 pounds, it’s easy to see why he was passed over in the draft.
The next season, the Wildcats were significantly better, making the playoffs and advancing to the second round. McKenna was a huge part of the club’s turnaround, almost tripling his offensive output from the previous season with 36 goals and 77 points in 68 games, plus 11 points in 12 playoff games. He led the QMJHL with 313 shots on goal, 200 of which came from dangerous scoring areas.
His incredible statistical improvement got him onto some draft boards, albeit as a very late round selection: 162nd by NHL Central Scouting, 245th by Future Considerations, and 207th by Hockeyprospect.com.
Still, he displayed a certain set of skills that made him an intriguing prospect, including a “heavy, pro-level shot”, impressive work ethic, high volume shooting, and underrated play-making abilities. Still, McKenna wasn’t selected in the 2018 Draft.
What can we expect from him next season?
Because McKenna is on an AHL-only deal, he won’t play with the Flames next season. The Stockton Heat, like the Flames, don’t have a wealth of right handed right wingers.
According to CapFriendly, the Heat have three right-shooting right wingers and they’re all rookies: Eetu Tuulola, Martin Posposil, and Justin Kirkland. McKenna could fit nicely into Stockton’s top-six immediately, and see powerplay time right from day one.
There really aren’t too many comparables for McKenna. In fact, since 2008, just 18 players have scored over 95 points as a 19-year-old in the QMJHL. 11 have played at least one NHL game, eight have skated in at least 100, and four average at least 0.5 points per game at the NHL level:
There are a few bonafide successes on the list above, including Claude Giroux, Mathieu Perreault, Ondrej Palat, Sven Andrighetto, and Anthony Mantha. Most of these players though, were dominant throughout their junior careers, not just in their 19 year old season.
From the list, McKenna’s closest comparable strictly from a points-wise evaluation is probably Paul Byron. Byron scored 44, 68, and 99 points from his 17 to 19 year old seasons respectively.
This steady increase most closely resembles McKenna’s trajectory; though Byron was drafted in his first year of eligibility in the sixth round. His junior team, the Gatineau Olympiques, was one of the best teams in the QMJHL that season, no doubt due in large part to having two 100+ point scorers on the team, one of them being Giroux.
Outside of Byron, almost every other player on the list either had multiple seasons with over 95 points, or their 95 point season was the outlier on their career stat sheet. Byron and McKenna would both be considered undersized wingers as well.
Best Case Scenario
A Paul Byron type career does, at this point, look like the most realistic best case scenario for McKenna. Byron played two full seasons in the AHL before playing his first NHL game for the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, and didn’t hit the 100 game mark until his 25-year-old season in 2014-15 with the Flames.
So, we’ll probably have to wait for a few years before we see any real impact from McKenna at the NHL level, should he get to that point. At the end of the day, McKenna is a free asset who has demonstrated a clear ability to score goals and distribute the puck at the junior level.
The AHL is a tough league, but if McKenna has a strong rookie season, he could find himself quickly rising up the organization’s right-wing depth chart. He’ll definitely be an interesting player to watch next year.