He is not nearly as well known in the hockey world as his famous dad. But very few are. Besides, Kitchener Rangers general manager Mike McKenzie is making a good name for himself on his own.
The soon-to-be-32-year-old son of iconic, reputable TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, young McKenzie has proven to be a shrewd and calculated operator as a rookie GM with the Ontario Hockey League Rangers.
Like his dad — who before rising to national fame at The Sports Network, was a sportswriter with the Sault Star — McKenzie thinks before he speaks. And when he speaks, he does so in a careful, knowledgeable way, just like his dad.
As his dad is known for his tireless work ethic as the undisputed, ultimate hockey insider, the kid has a similar reputation as a hockey boss.
And as dad does his homework in thorough, precise, top-of-the-class fashion, so too does the son, whose past as a player includes four years of Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey at prestigious St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.
He may look like a baby-faced, wide-eyed boy but McKenzie is his own man — and the clear-cut man in charge of the hockey operations in Kitchener.
Under the leadership of McKenzie, the Rangers this season made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2008, disposing of the Guelph Storm and Sarnia Sting to earn a date with the no. 1 ranked Soo Greyhounds.
And while the turnaround in Kitchener isn’t all about McKenzie, he certainly has done his part through his ascent from assistant coach (beginning in 2012) to assistant general manager to general manager.
Ask around the OHL about McKenzie and seasoned general managers and coaches such as George Burnett of the Guelph Storm, Stan Butler of the North Bay Battalion and Barclay Branch of the Flint Firebirds speak in glowing and respectful terms of McKenzie.
Through trades alone since the start of the 2017-2018 season, McKenzie parlayed a series of stock-piled, excess draft picks to acquire defenseman Logan Stanley and centre Logan Brown in separate trades with the Windsor Spitfires. He also dealt from draft depth to obtain right winger Kole Sherwood from the Flint Firebirds, left winger Givani Smith from the Guelph Storm and goalie Mario Culina from the Sudbury Wolves.
Stanley (Winnipeg Jets) and Brown (Ottawa Senators) are both first-round National Hockey League draft picks while Sherwood (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Smith (Detroit Red Wings) are also NHL prospects.
As for Sault Ste. Marie native Culina, McKenzie was able to obtain the overage goal-tending standout by sending a mere eighth-round draft pick to Sudbury.
As noted, McKenzie doesn’t just do his homework, he excels at it.
And as much as good trades have greatly assisted the Rangers this season, McKenzie has a passion for scouting, taking in literally hundreds of midget hockey games over the course of a season.
His scouting methods require patience and attention to detail.
“When you’re first watching you look for the obvious things, like can he skate, does he have skill, is he big, is he strong on his skates. Then I dive into the little things,” he told TheRecord.com.
“There is such little separation between average, good, great and elite players,” McKenzie noted. “I really try to watch closely for little things … like are their eyes up, where their stick is, what do they do with the puck, and did they make the right play. There are guys you see just once and you know. Other players you need to see 15 times to figure out.”
McKenzie sees the big picture, both through the draft and the trade route.
“We have to stay true to what we believe in here in Kitchener and make sure we’re doing the right things. There is definitely a time and place for trades.
“But I really don’t believe you can build a team strictly through just trading and manufacture a team. I think there needs to be pieces in place,” he added.
“Drafting players is free,” McKenzie pointed out. “If you make the right choices in the first three rounds, you’re going to have a really good team. On top of that you take some educated risks on some American players and you can recruit them. Once you’re ready, you can look at making trades to complement those guys.”
Making the right choices and being ready.
Sounds just like McKenzie.
PHOTO: Kitchener Rangers general manager Mike McKenzie.