Despite offensive success in 2023-24, Rory Kerins still lacks a niche as a pro

Photo credit:David Moll/Calgary Wranglers
Ryan Pike
23 days ago
This article is brought to you by bet365.
Professional hockey is not a particularly easy way to make a living, folks. Getting ice time can be extremely competitive, especially when you’re a stone’s throw away from the National Hockey League, and often the difference between the guys that make it and the guys that fall just shy of expectations is developing consistency and finding a role where you can excel.
In 2023-24, winger Rory Kerins showed flashes of offensive brilliance at times with the Calgary Wranglers. A clear niche eluded him, though, in part due to the numbers game.

The past

A product of the Ontario Hockey League, Kerins is a left shot forward – primarily a winger – listed at 5’10” and 174 pounds. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s not tiny either, and his style of game relies on mobility, puck movement and smarts in order to generate offence.
After two seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds, Kerins was a sixth-round pick by the Calgary Flames in 2020. He had doubled his previous season’s point output in his draft year, and at the very least his offensive upside made him worth a roll of the dice. Most of Kerins’ Draft+1 season was wiped out, as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the OHL cancelling the 2020-21 campaign, but he erupted for 118 points in 2021-22 – only Dallas prospect Wyatt Johnston had more points that season.
Kerins went pro in 2022-23 after signing his entry-level deal with the Flames. He spent the majority of the season in the ECHL with the Rapid City Rush, as the Wranglers had a lot of forwards and there was likely some concern that he’d get lost in the shuffle. When he was healthy with the Rush he was quite good, putting up 37 points in 38 games. During a couple AHL call-ups to fill in for injuries, he had two points over six games.

The present

Kerins spent all of 2023-24 with the Wranglers. He played in 54 games, posting 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points. 22 of his points were at even strength. And he actually led the Wranglers with five game-winning goals.
The challenge with Kerins is that he was sort of two different players during the season: “A-game Kerins” and “B-game Kerins.” When he was able to be used in offensive-oriented situations, he was really effective and displayed that “A-game.” He got into the lineup in early November after Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil were called up to the NHL, and he immediately rattled off a five game point streak (and he posted nine points in November). When Kerins was on, he was capable of getting points in bunches, and he was at times arguably their most dynamic offensive weapon.
When Kerins wasn’t generating offence, or wasn’t used in offensive-oriented situations, he just wasn’t nearly as effective – his “B-game” just wasn’t consistently strong enough to help the Wranglers win games. He’s not a particularly physical player. His instincts away from the puck are still developing at the pro level. Because of those traits, he’s not somebody you’d use in a checking or shutdown role. And because the Flames’ system was so full of more established offensive forwards and veteran checking forwards that were more reliable in two-way roles, he didn’t dress for 18 games during the season. (Disclaimer: he may have been banged up at some point, but he never appeared in the club’s injury reports on social media.)
We don’t even think there’s necessarily anybody to blame for Kerins’ usage this season; it was just how circumstances played out. Players like Cole Scwhindt, Matt Coronato, Zary, Pospisil, Jakob Pelletier, Adam Klapka, Dryden Hunt or the emerging William Strömgren were players that needed reps in the Wranglers’ top six (or top nine). When everybody was available for the Wranglers, that didn’t leave Kerins with the types of roles he was well-suited for at this point in his pro career.

The future

Kerins has played two seasons on his ELC, leaving one season to go on his current deal. It’s going to be a fascinating year for Kerins. Is he somebody destined for a defensive role in the NHL or AHL? Probably not. Between his size and what made him so effective in the OHL as a scorer, that’s not where his talents lie.
But Kerins showed this past season that when he has his mojo going offensively, he can be a really valuable player. The big challenge for him will be building some consistency into his game so that he’s still effective in all three zones when he’s not putting the puck in the net. Can he build up his “B-game” to the point where there’s not as big a gap between it and his “A-game”? If he can even things out, it’ll be a lot easier for him to find a niche and potentially find a path towards the NHL.
The 2024-25 season is going to be really important in terms of Kerins’ future in the Flames organization. We’re excited to see how he adjusts from this past season.

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