Keegan Kanzig is big and strong, a powerhouse of a defenseman. These are all accolades that have been thrown around in the media copious amounts. Keegan Kanzig is supposed to be a large part of the Calgary Flames future defense. He's supposedly full of potential, hockey smarts, and enough truculence for any two other players. While these are reasons that the Flames are excited for Kanzig, there are a handful of reasons why Kanzig shouldn't be valued quite as highly as he has been.
Kanzig was a third round pick for the Flames at 67th overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft, and while being a serviceable player isn't anything unique or special. His most remarkable quality is that he is "an absolute wall of humanity." What he does bring to the table shouldn't have merited the position he was picked in the draft. In fact, he was ranked as 112th among North American skaters, quite a difference from where he was taken by the Flames.
Kanzig is a serviceable player but his major area of development centres around his skating. He doesn't skate particularly well, which spirals out into other concerns with Kanzig's play. There is a marked deficit in offensive output over his junior career. It makes it clear that Kanzig is one of two things. He is either not focused on putting the puck in the back of the net or he doesn't have the skill to do so. Either is troubling.
Kanzig is known to be an enforcer, not a skater. It can be argued every team needs someone to protect the skill players. Kanzig can fill that role for the Flames. Despite his willingness to fight and his size, Kanzig is almost as well known for losing fights as he is for winning them. He's also known for an almost reckless amount of penalty minutes which pigeonholes his role on any team. In the NHL enforcers have to be able to contribute with a little bit more than their fists to justify their roster spots. Kanzig will have to do more than the average enforcer if he's to live up to the hype that's been built around him.
It is freely admitted by even those with a positive outlook on Kanzig that skating is not his strength. This lack of mobility is detrimental against faster players. He simply doesn't have the foot speed and mobility. Unfortunately, as Kanzig starts his professional career the speed of the game will only increase. If Kanzig's skating can be a liability at the junior level, it is definitely an area where a large amount of improvement is required and not a deficit one would expect to be so obvious in a third round pick.
However, simply due to his size it is possible that Kanzig will never develop the speed and mobility required to be effective in the NHL. Despite a trade to the Calgary Hitmen and time with the Flames at the end of the season, Kanzig's skating should be a point of concern for Flames fans until he's proven with more than words he has the ability to make an impact with something other than his fists.
Another area of concern for those watching Kanzig's development is his almost non-existent offensive output. Despite his size, Kanzig doesn't contribute much offensively. This is surprising because his size would normally herald exactly the type of one timer that would be fantastic on the power play.
While defenders of Kanzig will be quick to point out that he has an excellent plus/minus (and he does), it is important to remember than plus/minus tells the story of not just Kanzig but the players he's on the ice with. Kanzig has been fortunate enough to spend his junior career on decent teams.
Kanzig plays well on strong teams, but a great number of players are improved by playing on good teams. The momentum of the team helps to hide the player's individual weaknesses.
Madison Bowey is an excellent contrast to Kanzig. Bowey has a much greater offensive output despite being drafted at 53rd in 2013 to Kanzig's 67th. Bowey's offensive output marks him as a two-way player, capable of filling the roles the Kelowna Rockets have assigned him. Kanzig's lack of offensive output seems to indicate a player with a singular focus or an inability to play well at both ends of the ice, a skill needed in an increasingly more competitive NHL.
Kanzig is, at heart, a shutdown defenseman and enforcer. While both roles have a place on an NHL team, it is generally that of fourth liner. These players are important to team success, but not instrumental.
The Calgary media and Flames organization, however, have been on a campaign to convince fans that Kanzig is something more. This need to impress upon fans, Kanzig's potential only serves to highlight how ill-suited to many, many NHL roles Kanzig is and how his draft position illustrates the Flames' push to get bigger and tougher.
Staying out of the Box
Don't misunderstand, Kanzig has a role to fill: he's an enforcer, which his 166 PIMs can attest to. However, his most memorable fight in junior is a loss because he's simply expected to be a good fighter. He's big and strong and naturally fills the role of enforcer.
For Kanzig to prove his worth as something other than a fighter, he needs to stay out of the penalty box, something he has seemed to struggle with. In 2015, he led the WHL in PIMs by just about a whole period. The Flames' 20th ranked penalty kill isn't indicative of a team that plays well when a man short. Kanzig needs to prove that he can play a more disciplined game to be worth the risk that the Flames took in picking him 67th.
In short, Kanzig needs to skate better, produce more, and play a more disciplined, smarter game to justify the faith the Flames organization has put in him, and that's a long list of areas of improvement for a player heralded to have as much to offer as Kanzig. Perhaps, it would be better to admit that Kanzig was selected for size and his ability to fight and stop piling expectations of something more on him.