The Calgary Flames boast a brawny track record when it comes to signing undrafted, unproven defencemen. And while expecting Connor Mackey to morph into the next Mark Giordano is a ludicrous assumption—somewhere in between a meteor demolishing the Saddledome and Sufjan Stevens releasing a bad album in terms of likelihood—the 24-year-old defenceman is swiftly ascending the ranks of Flames system.
After an impressive first AHL season and a brief but promising NHL debut this past year, Mackey will look to contend for the sixth defenceman slot on the Flames opening-night roster—presuming the Flames ink their RFA sooner rather than later. Let’s explore what our top-ranked defenceman and seventh-ranked overall prospect could offer in that capacity.
Born Sept. 12, 1996 (age 24) in Tower Lakes, Illinois
6’2,” 190 pounds
Undrafted (signed by CGY in 2020 after three years of college)
Hailing from the Illinois village of Tower Lakes—roughly an hour northwest of Chicago, where his father David played 46 games over two seasons in a Blackhawks uniform—Mackey travelled a quintessentially American hockey-avenue before arriving at a professional destination. He captained his local high school team, logged two seasons in the USHL for the Green Bay Gamblers, and wrapped his amateur career with three seasons of Division 1 college hockey at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Beyond sharing an alma mater with the gifted Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, Mackey’s time in college was noteworthy in witnessing him notch over half a point per game during his tenure. His abilities in both zones attracted scouts aplenty, igniting interest from 28 of the 31 NHL teams who previously neglected to draft him. But Calgary outbid all others brandishing offers for the blueliner. The Flames signed him to a one-year contract on Mar. 20, 2020, wrenching his rights from eager hands all around the league.
Mackey mounted an admirable first professional campaign with the Stockton Heat this past season. He scored 3 goals and 16 points in 27 games; he led all Heat defencemen in points, finished fourth on the entire team in the same category, and even topped the roster in assists alongside Matthew Phillips—who played three more games than Mackey did.
For Stockton, Mackey excelled on both ends of the rink. He contributed offensively by gunning outlet passes and gluing himself to rushes…
As well as defensively through relentless backchecks and robust pokes at the puck…
And he injected pep into his teammates and dread into his opponents with the occasional thunderclap of a hit.
Our in-house Stockton pundit Mike Gould summed up Mackey’s accomplishments this past season perfectly:
Connor Mackey is a very impressive defenceman at the AHL level. He’s capable of successfully completing almost any assignment, whether it be on the power play, killing penalties, or anchoring a top pairing at 5-on-5. He’s a good skater with a hard shot who can punish his opponents with heavy hits. Mackey was named a Canadian Division All-Star as an AHL rookie for good reason.
His AHL success garnered him six NHL appearances this past season. He dressed for his first NHL game on February 13, 2021, registered nearly 14 minutes of ice-time in a 3-1 loss to Vancouver. Two days later, Mackey snagged his first NHL point in a win against the same Canucks squad—off-setting what could have been an ugly night for him, considering his three minor penalties incurred.
Mackey did not don a Flames uniform again until the end of the season in May, where he scored his first career NHL goal in his last game of the season by streaking up the ice and potting a back-door feed in a 6-2 win over Vancouver. Since both participating teams were already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, though, it was really only a meaningful night for Mackey.
Aside from nabbing his first career goal, Mackey shone most notably in his final three games for his physicality. He fought twice in three days, first against Jonah Gadjovich and next against Bo Horvat, winding up with sufficiently knackered knuckles in the process.
Our other in-house Stockton pundit Paige Siewert identified his readiness to scrap on behalf of his team as one of his most significant traits exhibited this past season, as well as a possible feature he could furnish for the Flames in the future:
Connor Mackey is one of the players in the Flames organization best positioned to be the next regular NHLer. He made a huge statement in the Canadian Division this past season with the Heat, putting up points that were on pace with forwards for the majority of the season. Not only can he produce but he also showed a tougher side of him towards the end of the season that involved him dropping the gloves on a few occasions. Even he himself mentioned this wasn’t a huge part of his college career but he definitely finds ways to stick up for his teammates when the situation calls for it.
Expectations for 2021-22
First and foremost, Connor Mackey needs a contract.
At the time of this writing, he is the only lingering RFA that the Flames have not re-signed for the impending season. Once his income is assured, Mackey can subsequently lock his sights onto cracking the Flames roster at camp. Unless the Flames add one further depth defenceman (Michael Stone, perhaps?) to round out their six spots before then, it seems there will be one blueline gap—behind Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Nikita Zadorov and Juuso Valimaki—to be patched by either Mackey or Oliver Kylington. Mackey seems to occupy a higher rung in the hierarchy than Kylington, but he will have to prove it at camp all the same. Mike Gould, for one, has faith in his ability to contribute as a consistent Flame:
[Mackey] will likely push for a full-time role in the NHL as soon as 2021–22. He could very well turn out to be a low-event third-pairing type at the top level but there’s certainly also a future where he develops into a useful jack-of-all-trades option in the Flames’ top four.
But hey—if the cards reveal him fated for another season in Stockton, Mackey will enjoy premier minutes, power play real estate and a prime opportunity to strengthen his case for a permanent position in Calgary, too.
2021 FlamesNation Prospect Rankings