Calgary, unfortunately, is not usually a go-to destination for unrestricted free agents. You don’t generally see the Artemi Panarins, the John Tavareses, the Steven Stamkoses of the world in serious talks with Flames brass about lucrative UFA deals.
Personally, I think Calgary has a lot more to offer than people may think, but I digress. This isn’t the world we live in.
That being said, the Flames have been able to attract the attention of top NCAA free agents almost every year. Normally these signings don’t pan out to be impact NHLers. Look no further than recent Flames signings:
Spencer Foo: played just four games with the Flames two seasons ago and is now out of the league playing in the KHL
Kenney Morrison: had a clear shot to at least play games in the NHL being one of just two right-shot defenders in the system, played exactly zero NHL games and has been in Slovakia the past two years
Josh Healey: has played parts of four seasons in the AHL but also has exactly zero NHL games on his resume.
Still, there are diamonds in the rough. Bonafide NHLers like Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, Torey Krug, Tyler Bozak, and Justin Schultz were all signed as NCAA free agents. It might not be appropriate to address any of these players as having “Norris Trophy potential”, but there are plenty of examples where these types of signings have been important for a number of teams.
Going into NCAA free agency this year, Connor Mackey was widely regarded as being the biggest prize. The Flames signed him to a one-year deal last Friday afternoon.
It’s nice to see the Flames making moves and bringing in players who have league-wide attention, but Mackey is a relative unknown. Here’s what you need to know about him.
Mackey is a left-shot defender out of Minnesota State University. He weighs in at 6’-2” and 200 pounds, and definitely has a history of piling up penalty minutes, though mostly before his last two seasons in college.
Before his career at Minnesota State, he played for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. He served as an alternate captain in 2016-17, his final year in the USHL. He went out with a bang; Mackey was named the 2016-17 USHL Defenseman of the Year, was a USHL First Team selection, led all league defensemen in scoring, and finished 16th overall in points.
This past season in college, Mackey was Minnesota State’s top scoring defenseman, and was an All-WCHA First Team selection. He wore a letter for the team in all three of his seasons with the team, and finished his college career with 18 goals and 61 points in 118 games.
As with all NCAA free agents, Mackey is not an 18 year old kid, but instead a 23 year old man. That’s part of what makes him an intriguing signing for the Flames; even Brad Treliving feels that Mackey is “close” to playing games with the big club.
He is a defense-first player, but there’s no doubting his offensive ability. He’s been especially effective on the powerplay in both the USHL and the NCAA, and relies on his high offensive IQ to make plays.
His most important attributes however, are how often he’s described as a 200-foot player, and that he is a gifted skater. These are skills that translate to the NHL level, and are what separate good junior players from good professional players. If Mackey is to succeed in the best league in the world, these are the skills that will get him there.
The Flames see Mackey as a defender who could crack the lineup, and play top four minutes, as early as next season. The Flames’ blueline has a ton of question marks with so many pending UFAs, but if Mackey can impress in camp, there’s no reason to expect he won’t get a shot.
The Flames did their research with Mackey. It’s not a complete surprise the highly sought-after free agent signed with the Flames, as the team hosted him at their development camp in 2017. They’ve been following his career for several years, and now we get to follow along with the next chapter.
Best of luck to Mackey, and here’s hoping for a successful career in a Flames sweater.