© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Mackenze Stewart was drafted in the seventh round by the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday with the 186th pick.
Not many fairy tale stories come in 6’4” 225-pound packages but the NHL draft had one on Saturday.
Mackenze Stewart, a rugged 18-year-old rearguard from the Prince Albert Raiders, was drafted in the seventh round by the Vancouver Canucks with the 186th pick.
“It’s definitely a bit of a fairy tale for me but I’ve worked really hard to get where I am,” he said on Saturday afternoon. “I think starting hockey for me a little later has turned out to be a really big success and all the adversity that I’ve faced throughout my career so far has paid off in the end.”
The Calgary product started playing hockey at age 12 and toiled in the Alberta Junior Hockey League as a 16-year-old, playing six games with the Raiders as well.
He made the Raiders out of camp last season but was in and out of the lineup in the early going as the coaching staff struggled to find a place for him.
By the end of the season, he had been named the team’s most improved player.
Stewart came under the tutelage of Raiders associate coach Dave Manson, with the longtime NHL blueliner passing along tips that brought out steady improvement from his 18-year-old player.
It didn’t go unnoticed.
“Dave was a huge influence on me and definitely took the time out to help me get into the lineup and when I did, he helped me excel. He’s a great mentor and a great coach. I really appreciate all the work he did with me.”
Stewart says Manson’s influence can be seen in everything from his shot and fighting to his skating.
“I’ve noticed a big difference in my speed and movement on the ice so far,” he says.
Stewart is working in Alberta with STARS Air Ambulance for the summer but is also finding the time to get on the ice twice a week and to work out six days a week.
He’s doing a lot of agility work in the hope of further boosting his foot speed.
Stewart said his personal trainer Mike Porter and his personal hockey coach Jeff Richards, both in Calgary, were also invaluable in the strides he made in conditioning and as a hockey player.
Stewart is obviously thankful for his opportunity to play in the WHL, even if it wasn’t always easy.
“It definitely gave me a different taste of hockey,” he says. “It’s a lot more professional. Having Cory (Clouston) as a coach, he doesn’t like to blow smoke. He gives it to you straight, which was a new experience for me. Having to work hard and having ice every day and that 72-game season is a lot to take in.
“I think I really developed during the season, especially at the end given more opportunity and it definitely paid off for me.”
Stewart scored five goals and added four assists in 55 games to go with 69 penalty minutes.
Still, the NHL draft wasn’t on his mind, he says. He found out he had been drafted when his agent contacted him.
“I wasn’t expecting that but I’m really happy that it happened,” he said. “ I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
Canucks GM Jim Benning told Canucks TV what he saw in Stewart.
“We took a tough, physical, stay-at-home defenceman,” he said.
He says the first of many messages came from teammate Matteo Gennaro and was quickly followed by messages from other Raiders, former teammates and coaches.
While he says it’s a nice feeling to have been drafted, he sees it as a starting point rather than a destination.
“Being drafted is a great thing and it’s good on the resume but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve made it anywhere yet,” he says. “I’ve got a lot to prove and I’m just looking forward to working hard.”
He’s also quick to share the moment with Raiders fans.
“Thanks so much for the support,” he said when asked what he would say to fans. “You guys are great. Getting out and filling the barn in the playoffs is an unbelievable experience. I know that there’s a lot of community support around me and every other player on the team.
“They really truly root for us.”