After a disappointing first half to the season, the Tri-City Americans are making changes.
On Monday, the Americans added 6-foot-4, 216-pound overage forward Mackenze Stewart to their roster.
“We had the opportunity to acquire a signed pro,” Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said in a press release. “Mackenze is a hard-nosed player who will bring tremendous leadership to our roster. We look forward to him joining our team for the second half of the season.”
Stewart was taken in the seventh round (186th overall) of the 2014 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks. He signed the with the Canucks on May 12.
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A native of Calgary, Alberta, Stewart arrived in the Tri-Cities on Sunday afternoon. He skated in his first practice with the team Monday and will make his debut with the team Tuesday when the Portland Winterhawks visit Toyota Center.
“Hopefully I can fit in with the guys,” said Stewart, who noted that he will wear No. 3. “When things are going the way you want, good things happen. I want to bring energy and positivity into the group and help them make a push for the playoffs.”
Americans coach Mike Williamson said he’s familiar with Stewart from when he coached in Calgary and Stewart played in Prince Albert.
“I remember him a bit, but this was my first opportunity to see him,” Williamson said after Monday’s practice. “He looked good. We will have to see how he looks going forward. We will expect him to play a big, strong, physical game. From what I’ve heard, he is a team guy who works hard. I hope he brings that enthusiasm to the our team.”
With the addition of Stewart, the Americans will have to trade or release one of their current overage players — Parker Bowles, Beau McCue or Brian Williams.
“We have a little bit of time,” Williamson said. “We certainly value the guys who are here. We will figure out what’s best for our team and the guys involved.”
After two years with the Prince Albert Raiders, Stewart made the jump to the pro ranks this season, splitting his time between the Utica Comets of the AHL and the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL. Between the two teams, he’s played just 10 games this season.
“Obviously, every player wants a place to play,” Stewart said. “This will be a nice fit. I am happy to get started. I’m excited to step on the ice and get more than 3 minutes a game. I haven’t been playing since I got called back up to Utica.”
The Americans acquired Stewart’s rights Saturday from the Raiders in exchange for prospect Mark Drohan and a conditional fifth-round draft pick.
“It was a little disappointing not going back to Prince Albert,” Stewart said. “I had a good relationship with the coaches there. In juniors, faces change every year. This is a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to have a fresh start.”
Stewart, who also can also play defense, has never been known as a scorer - 10 goals over the past two seasons, but he brings other attributes to the game.
“I’m physical,” he said. “I like to create space and get to the dirty areas on the ice and bring some grit to the game. I think once I settle in, I will be able to put up more numbers. As an older veteran, it’s exciting to play a role on a team and perform every night.”
Stewart amassed 183 penalty minutes the past two season with the Raiders, including 21 fights.
“There are a lot of young faces on the team and not a lot of big bodies,” Stewart said. “That is something I bring and they can use. I want them to have the confidence that I have their backs.”