The Toronto Maple Leafs reeled in another one of the top undrafted college free agents on the market by signing Minnesota State goalie and reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Dryden McKay to a two-year AHL contract.
The announcement came down today from Elliotte Friedman, who outlined where McKay’s path to Toronto begins. It sounds like training camp next Fall:
McKay is a 24-year-old goaltender who has been the most vaunted and storied netminder in NCAA hockey for several years now. He is the son of former Canadian goalie Ross McKay, who played one game in the NHL and who named McKay after his idol, Ken Dryden.
After playing in the NAHL and then the USHL, Dryden McKay enrolled at Minnesota State University in Mankato in the fall of 2018 at age 20. McKay won a goaltending competition his freshman season, and after snaring the starting role, he never looked back.
For four seasons, Dryden McKay was Minnesota State’s starting goalie, a period that saw the Mavericks pile up wins and McKay become a rising star in the sport. He was named to the All-Rookie team of his conference as a freshman and then was named All-First Team three straight seasons from 2020 through 2022. He was a First Team All-American in both 2020 and 2022 and earned Second Team honors in 2021. McKay re-wrote the Minnesota State record book for the goaltending position, and by the end of his career, he was shattering some NCAA records as well.
Over his four-year career, McKay posted a 113-20-4 record with 34 shutouts, a 1.46 GAA, and a save percentage of .932. McKay holds the NCAA record for most career shutouts, having broken Ryan Miller’s record, which stood for two decades. He also set the record for most wins in a season with 38 in 2021-22, breaking a record held by Marty Turco and Robb Stauber, which had stood for more than a quarter-century.
McKay’s unprecedented dominance made him one of the favorites for the Hobey Baker — awarded to college hockey’s top player — entering the 2021-22 season. After going 38-5 this season and leading Minnesota State to their second consecutive Frozen Four (and first national title game), McKay was named the Hobey Baker winner.
It was a bit of a controversial vote. McKay did not win the Mike Richter Award, given to the nation’s best goaltender, but did win the Hobey Baker, which seems counterintuitive. Voters for the Richter felt that Devon Levi of Northeastern was more deserving by dragging a subpar team to the tournament, rather than McKay backstopping a juggernaut. However, the Hobey Baker, which tends to be more of a career achievement recognition (see: Jimmy Vesey beating Kyle Connor for it in 2016), was given to McKay.
Indeed, the most difficult thing to parse out with McKay is the level of difficulty he’s faced. Minnesota State, a terrific team for the entirety of his time in college, is known as a crushing defensive titan akin to the early 2000s New Jersey Devils. McKay faced an average of just 19 shots per game this season, and those who watch Minnesota State know that very few of those were of the high-danger variety.
However, McKay deserves credit for doing the job when called upon, and he was a key component of the Mavericks’ dominance. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.
As for McKay and his professional hockey prospects, the biggest impediment might be his height. McKay is just 5’11” or 6’0″, depending on which resource you look at, which is well under the desired height for a modern goalie. That said, few scouts have complaints about his game tape. He’s calm, composed, confident, has fine rebound control, and can make highlight-reel saves. EPRinkside thinks he could improve on his edges and add a little bit of strength ($), but in terms of taking a swing on a goalie, there doesn’t seem to be much risk for a player as successful as McKay was at the NCAA level.
He is already 24, but goaltenders have such an odd timetable of development that I’m not sure that means much of anything. After all, it wasn’t until Jack Campbell’s age 27 season that he started to play regularly in the NHL. McKay will play in the AHL and work with the Marlies development team to refine his game, and just maybe, he’ll get a crack at the NHL. Even if he flames out, there’s little downside for an organization with the financial resources of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The one note about McKay worth mentioning is that he was recently suspended for six months by the United States Anti-Doping Agency for testing positive for a banned substance. The violation was traced to a supplement McKay took to boost his immune system during the Omicron surge; it contained minuscule amounts of the banned substance Ostarine.
McKay was not aware and the amount ingested was so low that the performance-enhancing impacts were negligible. Moreover, McKay had just begun taking the supplement when the test was conducted. The lack of knowledge and malicious intent led the USADA to reduce his suspension from the typical four years to just six months. McKay can begin training with a team again on August 25 and play games on October 11, which should line up fine with the start of the 2022-23 AHL season.