NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion has another sharpshooter in the ranks.
Brett McKenzie, the Ontario Hockey League club’s leading scorer last season, rejoined the Troops for practice Wednesday after having been released by the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets, the affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, who selected the centre in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
“The more weapons you have offensively, the better chance you have of winning,” said Stan Butler, coach of the Battalion, which is off to a won-lost-extended record of 3-0-1 in the young season and visits the Barrie Colts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“He played two exhibition games there and did well in those games,” Butler said of overager McKenzie’s time with Utica. “I think, unfortunately for Brett, it became a numbers thing. They put some guys on waivers from their NHL team, and they cleared waivers and they came down, which means that there wasn’t room for Brett.
“But Brett was our top scorer on our team last year, our best forward. We need him to come in, and I think we have a little bit more depth this year for him to play with guys.”
McKenzie, the Battalion’s first-round pick, 10th overall, in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, scored 29 goals and added 38 assists for 67 points in as many games last season. In four OHL campaigns, he has 79 goals and 96 assists for 175 points in 264 games.
McKenzie is in a situation similar to that of former Battalion right winger Barclay Goodrow, who went undrafted by NHL teams but earned a contract with the San Jose Sharks after a stellar overage performance in the Troops’ inaugural 2013-14 season in North Bay. Goodrow, who has been up and down between the Sharks and their AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda, is opening the season with the NHL club.
“That’s what I want to do, the exact same thing,” McKenzie said of Goodrow’s path.
Butler affirmed that McKenzie’s road is open, whether with the Canucks or another organization.
“Now the reality is they have until June 1 to sign him. If they don’t, there are 31 teams that can sign him, so this is a big year for him. His motivation should be to secure an entry-level contract.”
Meanwhile, defenceman Brady Lyle and centre Adam McMaster were among 48 OHLers on the ‘Players to Watch’ list issued this week by the NHL’s central scouting department.
“The ‘Players to Watch’ list is more of a media thing to get everybody excited about the hockey season,” noted Butler. “I think the reality is everybody’s watching every player right now and trying to form their own opinions. It’s nice to see Brady got on that list but, like everything, it’s all going to be decided on the ice now.”
After facing off against Barrie, a Central Division rival that has a 3-1-1 record, including a 5-2 loss at North Bay on Sept. 22, the Battalion plays host to the Peterborough Petes at 2 p.m. Monday in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game.
The game at Barrie can be seen live on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.