In Defense Of Keegan Kanzig

I had the chance to attend a junior game on Wednesday night.

The Calgary Hitmen beat the Red Deer Rebels 3-2 in overtime. Because it was my second time seeing the Rebels this season (and so I’d seen 2015 NHL Draft prospect Adam Musil a bit already), I spent a good chunk of the game paying attention to Keegan Kanzig. We’ve been a bit negative on Kanzig’s selection around these parts – in particular since drafting a big guy where he was chosen is a bit of a reach, to be blunt, particularly based on most pre-draft rankings – but I wanted to contextualize some of Kanzig’s performance by looking at one thing in particular.

Keegan Kanzig’s penalties.

So far this season, Kanzig has amassed 164 minutes in penalties. (He also has a 10 minute misconduct, which the WHL doesn’t count in penalty totals for some reason.)

Now, Kanzig fights. A lot. He’s among the WHL’s league leaders in fighting majors, with 14. That means of his 164 penalty minutes, 70 of them – just shy of half – are via fisticuffs. That leaves 47 minors that Kanzig took. That seems like a lot, and somewhat fuels the notion that he’s a big, slow defenseman.

But what types of penalties does he most often take? I break them into a few categories:

  • Crimes of Passion
  • Crimes of Laziness
  • Crimes of Mistakes

Crimes of Passion encompass plays where Kanzig is playing physical and goes over the line a bit. So you’re looking at things like charging, checking from behind, roughing, slashing, cross-checking and boarding. These are infractions where he’s in position and doing his thing, but just goes a bit crazy and gets dinged.

Crimes of Laziness are situations where opponents blow past him and he needs to do something to stop them from scoring. These are otherwise known as your Pylon Penalties: hooking, holding, tripping and high-sticking. I’m including high-sticking here because I consider not paying attention to the high or your stick or your follow through an attention to detail (or laziness) issue. But your mileage may vary.

Crimes of Mistakes are situations where players just make gaffes: interference (goalie and otherwise) and delay of game calls. There’s no malice here and there’s not necessarily laziness, but there’s just a lack of execution.

So how do these shake down?

Minors Pct.
Passion 30 63.8%
Laziness 10 21.3%
Mistakes 7 14.9%

For the curious, the most frequent calls against Keegan Kanzig are roughing (13), unsportsmanlike conduct (8), holding (5) and interference (5).

The picture this paints for me isn’t a guy that’s a pylon. It paints a picture of a guy that doesn’t know his own strength or has questionable judgment about how much to physically engage in a game (or when). Granted, this is against junior kids. Professional hockey players are bigger and stronger and faster than WHL stars, so I would suspect that these penalty rates would change dramatically. Specifically, I’d suspect fewer passion penalties and more laziness penalties; it’s harder to push around bigger kids (and they’re mostly bigger kids in the AHL) and you’re more likely to become a turnstile when playing against players with their speed.

So all I can say is that, at this level, his size and mobility aren’t why he’s taking the penalties he is. The calls he’s taking primarily are based in judgment, which can be coached – “Keegan, stop punching everybody” is a conversation I foresee.

          • Parallex

            I don’t know the exact circumstances but Clyde has the right of it with regards to coincidentals… I went through the boxscores for every game this season and found that of all his unsportsmanlike calls only 1 wasn’t offset with the same for a player of the opposing team.

            That’s not a defense of the player, Kanzig didn’t impress me in any of the Flames exhibition games I saw him play in and the success rate of such low scoring junior level d-men speaks for itself (aka not good) but in fairness a relatively small number of his PIM’s result in his team being down a man all things considered.

  • everton fc

    If you compare Kanzig to Ferland in terms of “style of play”, Ferland has learned to control himself, to pick his spots when he throws huge hits, and has reduced his PLMs since 2013. Not that he was racking up massive PM’s in Brandon. But he learned to mature. Control his emotions.

    Kanzig’s a big guy playing with kids. So he may be a bully, or sorts, at the junior level. He’ll have to control his emotions when he turns pro, or not only will he jeopardize his career, someone older, mature, with well-traveled experience, will tune him in. In other words, he may pick a bout with the wrong guy and learn the hard way. Seems Smith is more mature, in this respect.

    For the “truculent” role, I still like Carroll over Smith and Kanzig.

    TO read Burnward’s comment about character is a plus. Ferland has added this to his professional dossier. the young guys on the farm looked up to him. He looked up to Bouma. Can’t do much better than Bouma, in that role.

  • beloch

    Kanzig would not get the attention from the fans that he currently does if he wasn’t so big. He’s a third round pick. His scoring stats aren’t good. Ryan just spent a few minutes trying to explain away his penalty record. He’s a mountain of a man playing in a boys league, and he’s not dominating there.

    We all want to like Kanzig because he’s huge. That’s human instinct. Bet on the big guy. If Kanzig develops the speed, skill, and hockey sense a NHL player needs, his size will make him a Charaesque juggernaut. However, we should temper our expectations.

    Kanzig is still just 20 and, if he ever develops into a NHL defender, it will likely take him several more years of seasoning in the AHL to do it. He has a very long way to go. He might make it, but might easily not. Kanzig is a long-term, high-risk project, like Jankowski.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I think there’s almost no chance. A cup of coffee at best. Worse prospect than Jankowski, but then at least the team didn’t waste a first round pick on him.

      Not really sure what the point of the article is. That he’s bad, but not quite as bad as we thought, but still really undisciplined? And still bad?

      I’d rather read a more detailed scouting article on Morrison, maybe an interview.

  • Avalain

    I’ve gone to a couple hitmen games and seen this first hand. It seriously looks like he takes it as a personal affront that anyone would try to get the puck past him. I mentioned before that he looks “chippy”. It’s actually a good thing, IMO, because it’s something that he can work on.

    The knock I have against him wasn’t his penalties. It was that his outlet passes just never seem to find their mark. He seems to be paired up with the energy line so it’s kind of hard to tell if it’s completely his fault, but it was something that worried me.

    • Skuehler

      From what I’ve seen of him play, it didn’t seem like there has been a lot of improvement. However, I think Keegan’s biggest obstacle is himself. It looks like he needs to work on his self control – he is a liability if he’s regularly in the bin for uneccesary penalties.

  • Parallex

    Thanks for the analysis Ryan.

    He’s a bit of a victim of officials targeting him because they can see the number and name bar above the crowd of players in any scrum and therefore becomes an easy target.

    Watch more then one game and you will witness a trend, anytime Kanzig is on the ice and a whistle blows, immediately a linesman is skating full stride to him to try to ensure nothing happens. Make no doubt about it, he’s a target of the officials and therefore anything he does in amplified.

    Those unsportsmanlike penalties are essentially roughing penalties after the whistle and more often then not he also brings a guy from the opposing team with him so the net effect is zero.

    He gets a bit of a rough ride from folks on this site because they look at the stats sheet and draw conclusions based on that. There’s a reason scouts watch games live because there is no stat for how many times the opposing forward moves across the ice to avoid your side, how well you take care of the front of your net or how much room you create for your skilled forwards as a result of your edge.

    You don’t judge a chef on their ability to farm so why judge a self proclaimed defensive defensemen on his ability to fill a stats sheet?

    It’s worth nothing too that he is second on the team in +/- (behind their leading scorer) and among the league leaders in that category.

    Is there areas that need work? Absolutely. But there’s no reason to believe those skills can’t continue to develop.

  • RedMan

    Watched him lots in Victoria and agree with the sentiment that his size relative to most other kids in the league results in a lot of penalties. He’s a big man and when he puts his hands on 16, 17 years kids who weigh 160 lbs, bad things happen. So many calls I remember thinking, no way that’s a penalty against a bigger stronger player.