There’s a new Connor poised to join the Battle of Alberta.
The Calgary Flames bolstered their blueline depth in a big way on Friday by signing two highly sought after undrafted college free agents in Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman. Both one-year, entry-level contracts will kick in for the 2020-21 season.
Mackey, 23, was the prized catch, the No. 1 NCAA free agent available this spring. Friday marked the culmination of a two-year plus pursuit by Calgary.
The dual-citizen Illinois native, whose father David Mackey is a British Columbia native who played 126 games in the NHL, left contract offers on the table last year to take one more run at a national championship this season at Minnesota State (Mankato).
Exactly 28 of the NHL’s 31 teams expressed interest in Mackey while at Mankato. Mackey narrowed it down to six suitors on Tuesday before choosing the Flames; every team was willing to offer him the chance to step into an NHL lineup this season before the COVID-19 pandemic put the season on pause and barred teams from signing players to contracts that began in 2019-20.
For Mackey, it was the combination of trust-level with the Flames’ scouting and coaching staff, the opportunity to play in the NHL quickly, and the ability to learn from a mentor like fellow left-shooting defenceman and Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano that won him over.
Mackey previously attended the Flames’ development camp. Calgary has been tracking and kept in touch with Mackey since before his quiet 19-year-old season in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers.
The Flames view Mackey as a defenceman with top-four potential who is already close to stepping into their lineup.
Given the in-flux nature of their blueline – with five pending UFAs (T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson and Michael Stone) and no other prospect knocking on the door – it’s not hard to envision Mackey in Calgary’s opening night lineup next season.
Mackey will have to earn it. He is what many would call a “prototypical late bloomer,” a key cog on one of the best college teams in the country, going three-for-three in WCHA regular season titles during his time at Mankato. Mackey posted seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points this season, a first-team WCHA selection on the edge of posting a new career-high before his college career was cut short.
He is seen as a solid two-way player who has a hard shot, some offensive flair, enough size, and a defensive-minded approach that makes him a well-rounded signee.
While Mackey is the headline acquisition, there is no reason to sleep on Poolman –another player who generated other NHL interest as a staple in the North Dakota program. It’s possible that both Poolman and Mackey see action with the Flames next season.
Poolman, 24, is the younger brother of Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman. Their father, Mark, has been the strength and conditioning coach at North Dakota for 25 years. Tucker was a fifth-round pick of the Jets and left after three seasons, but Poolman – who skated on the top defensive pairing with his brother in 2016-17 – wanted to play all four years in Grand Forks.
Poolman doesn’t have the offensive touch of Mackey, but he is a stout defender with shutdown capability and he oozes character. Poolman is on a short list of players who have served as two-year captains at storied North Dakota.
Undrafted NCAA free agents have found hit-or-miss success in the NHL. There are probably more misses than hits.
But given the uncertainty with their own UFAs and their lack of organizational defensive depth, convincing Mackey and Poolman to come to Calgary made for a big win.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli