Curtis McKenzie and Colton Sceviour: Two Dallas Stars on the Clock
One has been around for ages now, while the other has only just started making a name for himself. Both are creeping closer to do-or-die time for their future in Dallas
Training camp, 2011: Colton Sceviour was 22 years old and fresh off a 41-point season with the Texas Stars. Sceviour had gotten his first (and only, to that point) NHL appearance out of the way the year prior, but despite being poised to take the next step, his solid 2011 training camp would be for naught. Here's Past Brad speaking to present us:
In late September of 2011 [Sceviour] was all the rage after preseason games that saw him contributing on the scoresheet, but the number of forwards in camp just didn't allow him to stay.
He responded with a great season with Texas, playing on the top line there against the best the AHL has to offer (which is significant) and in all situations. Training camp in September 2012 appeared to be another huge opportunity for a guy with some serious momentum. Except it didn't happen. You remember why.
So he trudged on with another 52 points in 62 AHL contests with Texas and played one NHL game, recording an assist and a -1 rating on January 26th against the Blues in Dallas.
With four goals and an assist in four preseason games played he ostensibly finds himself two years later once again on the cusp of cracking the opening night roster and an opportunity to then fight for the right to keep it, but the offense, while impressive, has little to do with why he could get his chance.
How did 2013-14 shake out for the soon-to-be-waiver-eligible Sceviour? He put up a scoring line of 8-4-12 in 26 GP along with a 1-2-3 line in the playoffs, earning himself a two-year extension along the way. Sceviour was a good soldier, and the Stars opted to keep him around. Given his positive possession numbers, right-hand shot and versatility, it would not be a stretch to call him a bargain thus far. Sceviour is signed through this year (his age-26 season), but it's hard to say where he'll fit beyond that.
Curtis McKenzie is a college boy. Two years younger than Sceviour, he likewise didn't make his pro debut until a few clicks after his draft year, albeit for a much different reason (four years in the NCAA with Miami). McKenzie would also spend time atop Texas's depth chart, even earning AHL Rookie of the Year honors for 2013-14.
Unlike Sceviour, McKenzie's first significant season with Dallas saw him post inconsequential point totals of 4-1-5 in 36GP with less impressive possession numbers. However, that was hardly concerning for fans of the already-24 McKenzie, as his grinder/grit/sandpaper/muckbro role was punctuated most memorably by his altercation with Dmitry Kulikov. McKenzie would also turn some heads on the noteworthy Horcoff/Ritchie/McKenzie line later in the season, but alas, that magic was short-lived. McKenzie would have his good games here and there, and four goals in 36 games isn't nothing. He looked like a player both ready for the NHL and for whom the rest of the NHL was also ready.
Despite playing different minutes in a different role, McKenzie isn't in a wildly different spot than Sceviour. C-Mac is a step ahead of the next wave of prospects, and while Brett Ritchie's unfortunate wrist injury seems to have assured McKenzie of at least some Dallas ice time this season, Jim Nill has been quite clear that nothing is guaranteed. Even for someone with a deal lasting through next year (and RFA status after that), McKenzie doesn't have a whole lot of time to let it be known that he is here to stay in the lineup.
Sceviour, of course, is in a similar boat. With Benn, Sharp, Hemsky and Nichushkin clogging up the top-six winger spots, and with Roussel and Eaves just below them, Sceviour has his work cut out for him if he's going to earn a UFA deal next year from a Dallas Stars team that has young(er) forwards galore pushing up from the minors. Cody Eakin's recent deal also indicates that Sceviour won't have a free center spot (though he often plays winger) up for grabs unless it's on the bottom line. Perhaps that means he occasionally slots next to Eakin on RW, even alternating faceoffs with him depending on the side of the ice. That would make some sense.
Really though, it's hard to see exactly how the Stars could easily retain Sceviour next year even if he does impress, given their salary cap constraints. Roussel and Eakin are locked up for a while, Ritchie will surely be back in the mix soon enough, and Nichushkin is going to require a new deal. Sceviour may just find himself in the no-man's-land where he plays well enough to deserve a raise, only to find himself having done so on a team without the cap room to give it to him.
McKenzie, though he comes with a bit more cost-assurance on his deal, seems to be on a similar track. He brings more of a physical presence than the scoring-minded Sceviour, but the Stars will only have so many spots to hand out as players like Shore, Dickinson, Ully, Janmark and Faksa continue to make their case for NHL minutes. That means that regardless of role, only the best players will find themselves on the Dallas bench a year from now. With realistically only three forward spots available next year--let's slot Ritchie into the lineup for now--the two mid-to-late 20s guys we're discussing are really going to have to prove their worth in monetary terms (well, cap money) and otherwise.
It's perfectly possible that Sceviour returns and McKenzie sticks, of course. That would mean (barring other moves) that you would have only one spot left in the 12-man forward corps next season. Jim Nill has preached competition for years now, and while there is no alchemy involved in forcing players to keep battling for a roster spot (just ask Rynnas and Lindback), there can be benefits to letting the kids overripen. Something about Detroit and Jim Nill and prospects, blah blah. You've heard it all before, but it's not untrue.
So, Sceviour and McKenzie look to have a golden chance this year, and especially for the next couple of months. They will get to try out for next year's NHL team on this year's NHL team. For two guys who are no longer kids, that's a nice little head start, but head starts are like scoring chances: they only matter if you do something with them. Sceviour and McKenzie have done pretty well so far, and they might do even better this year. That would create problems for Jim Nill, but I think he'd be just fine with that.