Head coach Mike Babcock often talks about wanting a player to “keep the flies off,” and the Detroit Red Wings’ scouts just might have found him one.
The Red Wings used their fifth-round pick, 140th overall, in the 2012 NHL draft in Pittsburgh to select the biggest, meanest defenseman they could find — Mike McKee of the United States Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars.
McKee checks in at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds and rang up a USHL-leading 237 penalty minutes last season — including 13 majors — and the numbers don’t lie.
“He’s a guy who’s got an immediate presence on the ice,” said Red Wings scout David Kolb. “He was far and away the toughest kid in that league and probably, in this draft class, he’s got to be right up there.”
McKee, who is headed to Western Michigan to play NCAA Division I hockey for former NHL coach-of-the-year nominee Andy Murray, was actually a forward until just a few years ago, so he’s obviously a raw project.
But the native of Newmarket, Ontario, had a good rookie season in the USHL, finishing third in defense scoring on his team with two goals and 17 assists along with a plus-7 rating in 59 games.
“Big man, skates well for his size, real good straight-ahead speed, hard shot,” Kolb said. “He has some tools offensively, but at the end of the day, at the pro level, he’s probably going to be a stay-at-home type.”
Although the lack of fighting in college hockey might seem ill-suited for McKee’s style of play compared to Canadian major junior, the Red Wings are fine with him going the NCAA route and think it will help his development.
Not only will he play for a respected coach, he’ll go up against older, stronger players and spend more time on the ice than in the penalty box.
His toughness is unlikely to disappear into the night.
“We’re not worried at all about that part of his game, so the school route will allow him to develop other parts of his game,” Kolb said. “We’re not worried about losing that element.”
Assuming McKee starts at Western Michigan this fall, the Red Wings have until 2016 to sign him. Given his recent switch to defense, that’s a huge factor.
“He’s still adjusting to the position but the attraction for us is his size, his physicality and the fact that he seems to like it,” Kolb said. “We think there’s something there.”