The Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Friday the signing of forward Bobby McMann to a two-year, two-way future contract with an annual value of $762,500.

For those unaware of his background story, McMann was signed to a two-year AHL contract by the Toronto Marlies two years ago in April 2020 after graduating from Colgate University, where McMann recorded 92 points (37G, 55A) in 145 career NCAA games.

His first season as a professional, 2020-21, was split between the Marlies and Wichita Thunder (ECHL). The forward recorded 17 points (6G, 11A) in 18 games for the Thunder and an additional two points (1G, 1A) in five playoff games.

During the COVID-shortened AHL season, McMann recorded four points (2G, 2A) in 21 games. In what was a tough year for the franchise — the team posted a losing record with a roster that was a revolving door of players and goaltenders — the winger was mostly utilized in a bottom-six role. An NHL contract by the end of next season wasn’t even really on the radar.

Fast forward a year, the 2021-22 campaign has proven to be a big breakout season for McMann. He’s been one of few bright spots in another inconsistent season for the Marlies, culminating in him setting a franchise record for most goals scored in a rookie season (24).

And yet it hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout the 2021-22 campaign. In fact, McMann was sent to the ECHL in October. Four games and four points later (2G, 2A) for Newfoundland, the winger was back in the American Hockey League and has remained with the Marlies ever since.

When back with the Marlies initially, McMann was not handed a role in which to establish himself and flourish offensively. Fourth-line duties with occasional third-line minutes hardly seemed equitable when he was often outperforming some of those receiving greater ice-time opportunities higher in the lineup.

It’s a credit to McMann that he didn’t let it faze him and he constantly kept his nose to the grindstone. It took until December for McMann to be awarded a top-six role by Greg Moore, albeit with the caveat of Curtis Douglas as his centerman.

Finally given an extended role in the team with true top-six linemates, McMann responded with seven points (5G, 2A) in 10 games through January into February.

Since then, the rookie has been one of Toronto’s best players down the stretch and certainly one of their most consistent offensively. 14 points in the last 17 games include 11 goals, the last of which set a franchise record for most goals scored in a rookie season (24).

It’s unreasonable to call McMann a true “prospect” at the age of 25, but it’s worth taking a short-term bet on his potential to develop further. The Colgate graduate adds something the Leafs‘ system has lacked in recent times as a power forward type with a scoring touch.

The first thing that leaps off the page about the Alberta native is his unrelenting work ethic.
He rarely takes a shift off and has drawn many penalties this season when opponents have been worn down by his work rate and puck pursuit. McMann plays aggressively, but he is also responsible and disciplined, as shown by the fact he’s been called for seven minor penalties in 60 games.

He’s also not a one-dimensional player, as he’s equally comfortable leading a zone entry, driving hard to the net, or chasing a dump-in and establishing a forecheck.

Opponents have to respect his above-average shot and puck-handling skills, the latter of which is perhaps the most pleasantly surprising part of his game. McMann’s skating is powerful (but could use some more refinement) and he’s a menace when driving the net at full flight.

His 24th goal was a typical power-forward goal on the power play, causing havoc in the crease and getting the last touch on the puck.

McMann is tied for the team league in power-play goals (eight). Add in his two primary assists, and he is one of only seven players to have reached double figures in power-play points. McMann has also been able to produce in the most difficult game state to score: at five on five.

He’s tied for fifth on the Marlies in even-strength scoring with 22 points (13G, 9A), tied for the team lead in even-strength goals with 13, and he’s second in goals overall, only two behind Joey Anderson’s 26. That production also comes with the aforementioned caveat of McMann not starting the year in the AHL and only receiving the promotion into a top-six role during the second half of the season.

Trusted as a penalty killer, McMann has also netted three shorthanded goals in a rough season for the Marlies in that department (currently ranked 24th in the AHL).

He does turn 26 in the summer, and the likelihood of his making the NHL is still an uphill battle. While Leafs defenseman Justin Holl followed a similar ECHL -> AHL -> NHL pathway and made his NHL debut at 26, traditional timelines, particularly for a forward, suggest McMann should be at the peak of his career or entering it now.

Although his trajectory has been vastly different from the norm, it isn’t hyperbolic to believe there is more development to be nurtured from the winger. McMann has produced offensively at a similar level to Brett Seney and Joey Anderson since playing a top-six role. Given what he has already achieved since turning professional and the accelerated pace of his progress in 2021-21, it’s worth exploring the potential for McMann to etch out some bottom-of-the-roster minutes before this two-year contract is through.