NHL Prospect Profile: Matt MacKenzie

Each day in the lead-up to the NHL Draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles, Yahoo! Sports will feature one of the Central Scouting Bureau’s Top 100 North American prospects from the Canadian Hockey League.

Defenceman Matt MacKenzie’s progress this season characterized how the Calgary Hitmen were able to hold a high note.

There is supposed to be some rise and fall in the Canadian Hockey League, as teams turn over a portion of their roster each season. But MacKenzie, NHL Central Scouting’s 74th-ranked North American skater, helped the Hitmen avoid any great drop-off from the 2008-09 season in ’09-10 despite graduating three defencemen.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound MacKenzie, emerged as a regular on Calgary’s top pairing, typically with Zak Stebner, a trade-deadline addition from Kamloops. They helped the Hitmen finished first overall for the second season in a row, post the best defensive record in a deep Eastern Conference and capture the franchise’s second Western Hockey League championship.

MacKenzie, a native of New Westminster, B.C., helped the Hitmen offensively as well, contributing six goals, 34 assists and a plus-14 in 64 regular season games with the Hitmen. The three-year veteran was even more productive in the playoffs with six goals and 10 assists during Calgary’s 16 game run in the post-season which culminated in a berth at the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Brandon, Man. The Hitmen were knocked out of the Memorial Cup by their rival Brandon Wheat Kings in the semifinal and MacKenzie was held pointless in tournament.

1. How would you say your past season progressed, from start to finish?

“We knew coming in we’d have a good team and I wanted to have a bigger role because I knew we had a lot of guys leaving. As the year went on, it got a lot better and the long playoff run (winning the WHL title and reaching the MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal) definitely helped … my play was good throughout, mainly due to the team’s success … it was good for my confidence, to be playing my best that late into the season.
“Once Zak (Stebner) came from Kamloops (in a deadline deal), they kind of relied on us to shut the other team’s top lines down. That was kind of our role from January on.”

2. In your mind, what would scouts say you have to work on between now and when you’ll be on the cusp of turning pro?

“Skating and mobility always need to improve, but I think they would like to see me take more offensive risks when an opportunity presents itself. It’s definitely come a long way, my offensive game, but there’s still room for improvement.”

3. What is the best asset you bring to a team?

“I’m an all-around defenceman who plays well in all situations, power play, penalty kill, against other teams’ top line.”

4. What was the most surprising question you were asked when you interviewed with teams at the NHL Scouting Combine?

“There were a couple teams asking me what’s the largest river in Canada. I had no idea, so they were wondering what they were teaching me in school. So, there were some weird ones but for the most part it was pretty straightforward. “They told me to throw out an answer on the river question. I said Fraser River. Apparently it’s the Mackenzie River, which is my last name. Maybe that’s why they tossed it out.”

5. Favourite TV show or movie?

“TV show is Two And A Half Men. Me and my roommate (Hitmen defenceman Peter Kosterman) just watch it non-stop. Movie? I like Avatar.”

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

Updated Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010