A smaller winger ‘always on the hunt' led all Flyers prospects in goals


No Flyers prospect scored more goals this year than the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Connor McClennon.

While diminutive, the right winger was prolific with a relentless and multifaceted shot.

He buried 43 markers in 62 games to lead the WHL-best Winnipeg ICE. He capped his regular season with 81 points and he hasn't slowed down in the playoffs.

The production has built McClennon a solid case for an entry-level contract.

"I was really impressed with him," Medicine Hat general manager and head coach Willie Desjardins said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "He always attacks, he has great speed, he's always on the hunt. He's not a guy that waits for something to happen; he's always a player that's trying to make something happen. Super competitive, really a guy you'd love to have on your team."

Of his 81 points, McClennon put up 14 of them on Desjardins' team. He recorded seven goals and seven assists in six regular-season matchups against the Tigers. His best game of the season was a four-point performance (two goals, two assists) in a 7-2 victory Nov. 27 over Medicine Hat.

The 65-year-old Desjardins has been a head coach at the NHL, AHL and junior hockey ranks. He was a bench boss for the Canucks and Kings. He won the 2014 Calder Cup championship with the AHL's Texas Stars and has twice won a WHL title with the Tigers (2004, 2007).

Does he think McClennon's game can translate to the NHL despite the 19-year-old's smaller stature?

"There are more smaller players now playing in the NHL and playing at a high level," Desjardins said. "He has really good quickness, his quickness is good. You'll have to have that at the higher level. He's got to get a step on a guy right away, he'll have to explode and get on the attack right away. But he does that. He jumps, he finds holes well, so that part's really good.

"I like him, I really like him. Do I think it could translate? Yeah, I do. He's too competitive. Some guys, they accept where they're at. But he doesn't seem like that; he seems like a guy that always wants more, he's going to want to find a way. I think with his skill level, he can find it."

There could be concerns about McClennon's size and skating at the next level. After his 2019-20 season was cut short because of a collarbone injury, McClennon was selected by the Flyers in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. He needs to be signed by June 1 or the Flyers will lose his rights, which would make McClennon a draft-related unrestricted free agent.

The Flyers' decision on whether to sign McClennon has not yet been made. It remains up in the air for now. The organization has young right wingers in Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom, which could limit opportunity for McClennon. But the Flyers have some time and McClennon is regarded as a character kid.

Right now, he's humming along in the WHL playoffs for the ICE, who are coached by James Patrick, the uncle of Nolan Patrick. Entering Friday, McClennon had six goals and eight assists through nine postseason games. Winnipeg was a league-leading 53-10-5 in the regular season and is looking to close out its second-round series.

When McClennon was drafted by the Flyers, he said he modeled his game after Alex DeBrincat. The 5-foot-7 Blackhawks right winger already owns a pair of 41-goal seasons before the age of 25.

Desjardins was asked for a player that he could possibly liken to McClennon. He mentioned 5-foot-9 Canadiens right winger Brendan Gallagher, who is a two-time 30-plus goal scorer and known to play with an edge.

"It's a little bit tough because I haven't seen him enough in all situations to say that kind of thing," Desjardins said of a McClennon comparison. "He reminds me a little bit of Gallagher in Montreal. I never coached Gallagher. He might not be quite as feisty around the net and stuff like that, but he's similar, to me, because he competes so hard."

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