Over the next few weeks, The Win Column has ranked the Calgary Flames’ best prospects in advance of the 2022 NHL Draft. Next up in our prospect rankings is the sixth ranked prospect: Connor Mackey.
An undrafted defenceman, Mackey played four seasons in the NCAA with Minnesota State (Mankato) and saw his offensive totals climb each season. He finished his third year with 24 points in 36 games and a team-leading +23. As a highly coveted free agent, numerous teams were interested in his services but he opted to sign with the Flames.
Going into the season, Captain Mark Giordano and many others in the organization spoke highly of Mackey’s skills as a rookie. Despite being undrafted, many expected him to play NHL games that season—and he did. Mackey featured in six games, recording three points and 20 penalty minutes in that time. He was decidedly okaay in those six games, but probably needed some seasoning. As a result, the Flames sent him to Stockton to play the rest of the season, and he recorded 16 points in 27 games as an AHL rookie.
This year, Mackey played the whole season in Stockton and was probably the team’s best blueliner in that time. He recorded 36 points in 53 games for the Heat, best among blueliners on the team by a wide margin and 16th in the league. Not bad for an undrafted player.
Mackey’s strengths and weaknesses
The good news and the bad news with Mackey is this: he’s very much a jack-of-all-trades. Despite his very good offensive totals, he is by no means an offensive blueliner. He can put points on the board, but they are about a 50/50 mix of primary and secondary points. He managed two goals and eight primary assists at 5v5 this season, but also had nine secondary assists in the same game state. These numbers mirror his power play and penalty kill totals as well.
However, putting up 36 points is clearly more than just luck. Mackey has very much been a key member of this Heat team, and has scored some big goals including this one to keep the Heat’s playoff run alive against the Chicago Wolves:
These numbers are nothing to scoff at, but secondary assists are not an indication of high offensive skill, rather they are often a result of being on the ice at the right place and the right time.
On the other hand, Mackey is no Chris Tanev on the defensive-side. In fairness, most defencemen aren’t as steady defensively as the Flames’ star, but Mackey does not shine particularly on defence. That being said, he is far from a liability and handles himself generally well when facing pressure. Mackey was tasked with heavy minutes against tough opposition this season, but still finished with a 56.1% even-strength goals for percentage while playing over 20 minutes a night.
The other area that stands out is his decision-making. Mackey is quite good at making decisions of when to pinch, when to backtrack, and when to throw a big hit to break up a play. This play in particular stands out for the latter:
Mackey’s next steps
Mackey has very few holes in his game. He’s a strong skater, good at both ends of the ice, and is rarely if ever a liability. The Flames have three prospect blueliners in Stockton that will be back next season barring a trade: Mackey, Juuso Valimaki, and Ilya Solovyov.
Solovyov is a similar type of blueliner to Mackey in the sense that he is well-rounded, but his quality is not quite where Mackey’s is to this point. He was only drafted in 2020, and likely needs another year or two to show what he can be.
Valimaki, meanwhile, has taken a huge step backwards in his development. He really struggled to make an impact both offensively and defensively for the Heat on a team where he simply should have been the best they had. Mackey clearly surpassed Valimaki in the depth chart this season, and has taken huge strides in his development.
For all intents and purposes, Mackey is the Flames’ best blueliner outside of the team in Calgary and should be looking for a job with the big club to start next year. He has earned it.