Connor Mackey, who the Calgary Flames signed out of college as a 24-year-old last year, has quickly risen up the organization’s depth chart as he has developed into a very solid prospect for the team. He was nearly a consensus top five prospect among TWC writers, coming as high as third on one list. He ranked outside of the top five in only one list—coming in at seven on my own.
Regardless of minor discrepancies, it’s clear that Mackey has garnered some real excitement among the fan base, going from a relatively unknown free agent signing to one of the team’s most NHL ready prospects in just one year.
Mackey’s on-ice results
Mackey is the perfect example of a late bloomer. He was virtually unknown his draft year, playing in the USHL and putting up just two points in 29 games. The next year however in his D+1 season he broke out with an impressive 47 points in 60 games which led his team and earned him the USHL Defenceman of the Year award. He was also named to the USHL First All-Star team.
The following year he made the jump to Division 1 college hockey for Minnesota State U in the WCHA. He spent three years there before being signed by the Flames last year following the conclusion of his season. He isn’t a pure offensive defenceman, however he has shown flashes at times of his offensive ability, and seems to just get better each year at producing offence.
During his first season in the WCHA with Minnesota State in 2017–18, Mackey put up 12 points in 40 games, including 40 PIMs. Despite being a rookie and one of the youngest players on his team, that total was actually third on his team among defencemen. His 12 points were also first league-wide among rookie defencemen. This earned him a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team.
The following year in 2018–19 Mackey improved on his rookie season total. He posted 25 points in 42 games, good for fifth on his team for points, and first among defenceman. That total also ranked tied for 18th league-wide, and tied for fifth among defenceman in the WCHA. He once again added a significant amount of PIMs, racking up 55 which ranked 10th in the WCHA. He would be named a WCHA All-Academic and to the WCHA Third-All-Star Team following the season
The next season in 2019–20 Mackey once again made strides offensively, putting up 24 points in just 36 games, good for a career best 0.66 points per game in the WCHA. His 24 points were good for ninth on his team and first among defencemen once again. Minnesota was absolutely stacked that year, finishing a ridiculous 31-5-2 on the season.
Mackey’s 24 points were good for 30th league-wide but third among all defencemen. He was also a very impressive +23 that season, which was first in the entire WCHA. He was on the ice for 40 goals which ranked third league wide, and just 17 against. Mackey’s impressive season earned him a spot on the WCHA First All-Star Team as well as the American Hockey Coaches Association’s All-America West Second Team.
Finally, in the most recent season, he made the jump to professional hockey, suiting up for 27 games for the Stockton Heat, and six games for the Flames. Mackey experienced some great success in the AHL in his first taste of professional hockey. He would end the season with 16 points in 27 games, which ranked fourth on the team and first for defencemen. His 13 assists was tied for first on the Heat with Matthew Phillips.
His 16 points was 20th league-wide for defenceman but fifth among rookie defencemen. His play earned him a spot on the AHL Canadian Division All-Star team.
Mackey also made his NHL debut last season on February 13th against the Vancouver Canucks. It didn’t take him long to register his first point either as he tallied an assist in his second career game two days later. All said, he would finish the year with three points, one goal and two assists in six NHL games while averaging over 14 minutes a game.
After the Flames’ season was over, he went on to play in the IIHF World Championship, where he had one assist in over seven games. He ended up earning a bronze medal with Team USA.
Mackey’s strengths and weaknesses
Mackey is a very well rounded defenceman. He doesn’t possess any glaring weaknesses on either side of the puck, and can contribute both defensively and offensively. He is a very safe and responsible defenceman who can be trusted in all situations. He’s a solid puck carrier and is very mobile despite his larger frame at 6’2″ and 190 pounds.
Perhaps the best aspect of Mackey’s game is his puck moving ability. He has solid hands and puck skills and is very good at holding onto the puck in transition to exit the zone. Mackey is very smooth in transition and can make difficult zone exits look seamless and easy at times because of his puck skills, skating and hockey IQ. Simply put, he is great at moving the puck up ice and out of the defensive zone with possession. This is a skill in particular that the Flames current defence group sorely lacks.
His skating is also strong which is another reason why he is so good at carrying the puck up ice. He moves very well for a player of his size and it shows when you watch him play. Throughout his college career he has continued to improve his skating ability and it is now at a point that it is one of the strengths of his game.
Another aspect of Mackey’s game that is impressive is his hockey IQ, at both ends of the ice. He has been praised in the past for his strong decision making, making him a very dependable player on the back end. His high IQ ensures that he is rarely out of position on defence, while also helping him generate offence at the other end. More of a playmaker than a goal scorer, Mackey is very good at finding teammates in the offensive zone and setting up his teammates anywhere in the defensive zone.
His first NHL goal is a great example of his ability to recognize when to jump up into the play for a scoring chance as he heads to the net for the backdoor tap in.
He can also bring a physical aspect to his game as well, showcasing the edge to his game. He can still stand to add some strength going forward to fill out his 6’2″ frame, but even now he can be an imposing physical presence when he needs to be.
In terms of weaknesses he really doesn’t have any glaring ones. He isn’t the most skilled defenceman, and he isn’t an elite defender, but he does all the little things right. He is able to make up for the lack of elite skill in his game with his hockey IQ, skating and decision making. He’s dependable, solid at both ends, and someone who can play in any situation as needed. Something NHL coaches will love.
Mackey’s next steps
Mackey is arguably the Flames’ most NHL ready prospect overall, and is without a doubt their most NHL ready prospect on defence. There’s very good reason to believe Mackey could be a full-time NHLer with the Flames next season in just his second pro season.
With Nikita Nesterov off to the the KHL, Michael Stone a UFA and Oliver Kylington a candidate to be picked in the expansion draft, the Flames will need to fill some depth spots on their back end next season. I’d say Mackey is in prime position to claim one of those spots, and likely even a spot in the teams starting lineup come opening night.
He showed some solid progression throughout the season in between his two NHL stints and looked much more comfortable during his three game stretch in May as he seemed to earn the trust of Sutter and his coaching staff to close out the season. He was even used both on the power play and penalty kill for the Flames, showcasing his versatility.
Perhaps if the Flames had a logjam on defence then Mackey would return to the AHL next year, but there are some major holes on defence for the Flames at the bottom of their depth chart and given Mackey’s skillset and ability, he should have a great shot of earning a spot with the Flames next season. It will be up to him to impress the coaching staff in training camp to convince them he deserves a spot over older and more experienced players.
He’s never going to be a top pairing defenceman, but he has a shot at developing into a very solid and dependable all around second pairing defenceman who can play on both the penalty kill and power play. Exactly what the Flames need right now.