For the second time in recent memory, a Calgary Flames-drafted prospect with a valid National Hockey League contract was thrown back into the junior ranks for some additional seasoning in 2015-16. Much like with Micheal Ferland in 2012-13, Keegan Kanzig was the victim of the numbers game and was sent back to the Western Hockey League to be a veteran leader for his team.
Kanzig may not have put up gaudy offensive numbers relative to the rest of the league, but he ended up having a pretty good season in the ‘Dub all things considered.
Kanzig bounced around a bit this past season. He began the year in Stockton, poised to spend the season as a full-time pro. Instead, he got into the line-up just once through Stockton’s first six games. After weighing the situation, the Flames re-assigned him back to the Calgary Hitmen on Nov. 5 – 18 games into the WHL season.
He ended up playing 53 of the remaining 54 games for the Hitmen. He wore an alternate captain’s A on his jersey for the entirety of his stay, and he primarily played on the top two pairings for the Hitmen, often playing on the right side of 18-year-old Jake Bean. After scoring just six goals through the previous four seasons in the Dub, Kanzig scored 13 for the Hitmen as an overager – including two multi-goal games.
I personally witnessed a game this season where Kanzig had multiple chances to complete a hat trick, something I never expected to ever see in my life (and something that definitely wouldn’t be possible had he stayed in Stockton or been sent down to the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder).
All in all, Kanzig had some offensive success and visually seemed to gain a lot of confidence with the puck. (He had already a good deal of confidence away from the puck by virtue of being a very large human being.)
IMPACT ON TEAM
The challenge laid out for Kanzig this season was to increase his offensive production – few players can survive playing pro if they can’t put points on the board – and to reel in his physicality a bit. Kanzig’s a big, boisterous player, and he’s been used in the past as a nuclear deterrent by coaches. But quite often, the biggest, meanest-looking player in a scrum is the guy that gets the extra penalty.
This season? Kanzig scored 13 goals, more than twice his previous WHL career total. He also dramatically reeled in his minor penalties, both overall and on a per-game basis. As a result? Hitmen coach Mark French used him a ton in every situation, and he helped solidify a young blueline group that was often without Flyers pick Travis Sanheim (due to injury or the World Juniors).
Kanzig’s penalties over his three post-draft seasons:
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Now that he’s entirely out of kicks at the can in major junior, Kanzig will become a full-time professional hockey player in 2016-17. He’ll transition with a lot more confidence in his game than he had a season ago. Whether or not that can translate into success at the next level is anybody’s guess.
The Heat look to have a ton of newcomers next season and several returnees. You can expect to see such names as Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenney Morrison, Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Patrick Sieloff, Ryan Culkin and Brett Kulak. Kanzig is going to be in a dogfight to get a decent share of ice-time, and will possibly have to head down to the ECHL in order to get enough games in to develop as a pro.