The Bobby McMann story: From undrafted ECHLer to full time Toronto Maple Leaf

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
When the Toronto Marlies, yes, the Marlies, not the Maple Leafs, signed Bobby McMann to a two-year AHL contract in April 2020, I’m willing to bet only a small fraction of fans paid any attention to it. 
Sure, that may have been partly due to the fact that the world was one month into a battle with COVID-19, but pandemic or no pandemic, not a lot of people, especially casual fans, tend to pay any attention to AHL contracts. And why would they? Rarely do they ever end up turning into anything meaningful at the NHL level, outside of the odd case.
Well, McMann is one of those odd cases. The Maple Leafs signed the 27-year-old to a two-year contract extension worth $1.35 million yesterday. Despite starting the season with the Marlies, he’s turned into a fine depth forward throughout the season with the Leafs, with ten goals and 18 points in 40 games so far. His play has earned him the odd stint in the top six from time to time, but he’s largely been a staple on the third-line left wing. 
Instead of focusing solely on what he’s done this season, let’s take a little trip down memory lane, for those who might have missed it, and see what he had to do to get to this point. 
It all started in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), a league that’s considered a tier lower than the Western Hockey League (WHL) but has produced some notable NHLers including the likes of Mark Messier, Lanny McDonald, and Cale Makar. Despite some impressive seasons with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, he went undrafted in his three years of eligibility. At age 20, he committed to Colgate University, a liberal arts college about an hour east of Syracuse, New York. He played out his entire college tenure with the Colgate Raiders, serving as an alternate captain in his junior year and team captain in his final season, where he recorded 20 points in 34 games. 
Then, COVID hit. Classes went online and McMann’s college career came to an abrupt end. After consulting with his agent and weighing options to continue playing hockey, he eventually signed that two-year contract with the Marlies. He told his college newspaper, the Colgate Maroon News, that Toronto’s reputation for development and excellent treatment of their players drew him to the franchise. 
“I’m super excited because they have such great staff there and so many great people in that organization,” McMann said. “They have shown to make great professionals out of players who have played in the American League, and these players have gone on to the NHL, so I’m super excited about that.”
McMann was already on Toronto’s radar after training at a camp alongside notable NHLers in Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes the previous summer. Still, at 24 years old with no return to hockey in sight just yet, the odds of the Wainwright, Alberta native making the NHL were stacked against him. Lucky for him, the odds being “stacked against” you does not mean the odds don’t exist.
The 2020-21 season was split between two leagues for McMann. Half was spent with the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder, where he recorded 17 points in 18 games on loan, and the other half with the Marlies, where he only managed a measly four points in 21 games. Nothing too eye-opening for someone in his mid-20s at the time, but he did sign a two-year contract, after all, and that second year is when he really began to leave his mark. 
Playing both for Marlies’ success and a shot at an NHL entry-level contract, McMann found his game in the AHL, scoring 24 goals en route to 35 points in 61 games, earning himself a spot on the team’s top power-play unit and emerging as a top power-forward threat for the team. Even with his breakout season in full effect, he acknowledged that the work was far from over. 
“I’m confident and happy with where I’m at right now, definitely not content.” Said the then 25-year-old in an interview with The Leafs Nation at the time. “I always want to be better and obviously I think I’m showing that I wanna continually work every day at practice and in games, watch video and do all the things I can to improve my game, therefore improve our team’s game, hopefully win more games, and then everybody wants a player that knows how to win.”
McMann’s attitude paid off in the end, inking a two-year entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April 2022. 

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He stuck to his word and kept things going the following season, scoring 21 goals and recording 29 points in 30 AHL games. He also got his long-awaited call-up, and while he only managed one assist and one disallowed goal in ten games with the big club, he established himself as somebody who could keep up with the pace of the NHL and give them a serviceable bottom-six player should they need him. He didn’t have the opportunity to help the Marlies in the playoffs given he was serving as a black ace for the Leafs, which was surely a nod to what they thought of him at the time. 
That brings us to this season. McMann once again started the season with the Marlies, not because he had a bad training camp, but because the team was inclined to give players like Noah Gregor a shot on the fourth line after he came into camp and signed a one-year contract after inking a PTO with the team. Still, he kept grinding, scored a pair of goals with the Marlies, and got his recall to the Leafs on November 11th. It took him until mid-December to become a regular player for the big club, but he hasn’t looked back since. 
It’s worth mentioning that it’s been an inconsistent season offensively for McMann. Seven of his ten goals came within a five-game span in mid-February, in the midst of the Leafs’ season-high seven-game win streak following the suspension of Morgan Rielly. Outside of those five games, the remaining three goals came in a culmination of the 35 games outside of that streak. Still, his play away from the puck makes his offensive inconsistency this season a little easier to forgive. He scored his first NHL hat trick on February 13th, and earned his aforementioned promotion alongside John Tavares, skating with the captain and fellow rookie Nick Robertson. His goal in the Leafs’ most recent game must have inspired GM Brad Treliving to keep him around because he inked his two-year deal on Wednesday afternoon. 
His path to the NHL is somewhat reminiscent of the one former Leafs defenceman Justin Holl took. While Holl was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, he never inked an entry-level contract with them and also went the route of the AHL contract with the Marlies after a season in the ECHL. That AHL contract turned into an NHL contract, and his borderline cruel ice time under then-head coach Mike Babcock turned into top-4 minutes under Sheldon Keefe. Holl’s tenure with Toronto was a controversial one, to say the least, but he eventually secured his bag with the Detroit Red Wings this past summer, signing a three-year contract worth $3.4 million annually. Ideally, McMann won’t sour on the fans the way Holl did, but as a depth forward playing in a role he’s suited for, I don’t see this being the case. 
So, there you have it. From three years in the AJHL to going undrafted, to four years with Colgate University, to the ECHL, to the AHL, to the NHL with one of the most storied franchises in the league. McMann’s story is yet another reminder that you don’t need to be a top pick, play in the top junior leagues, or make the NHL as a teenager to carve out your spot in the league. What his potential looks like with a proper NHL deal under his belt is unknown, but at just over a million a year against the cap, his contract could be easy to navigate at worst and a steal for Toronto at best.

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