Debuting on the T25U25 list this year is the newly acquired right handed defenseman, Brennan Menell. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Menell this offseason after trading for him from the Minnesota Wild. The deal was for a conditional 7th round pick in 2022, which the Wild will get if Menell plays 30 NHL games for the Leafs. The contract he signed was a one-year, two-way deal at the league minimum of $750K when he’s in the NHL and $400K when he’s in the AHL.
Menell is 24 years old and a 5’11” offensively minded defenseman from Woodbury, Minnesota. He played junior in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants and Lethbridge Hurricanes, totaling 145 points in 196 games for his WHL career. He went undrafted to the NHL and signed as a free agent with his hometown team, the Minnesota Wild.
He spent parts of three seasons in the AHL for their affiliate, where he put up 116 points in 199 games. He was given a five game taste of the NHL for Minnesota back in 2019/20, but was never able to lock down a spot on what has been a deep defensive team for a long time. Last year, with a lot of questions for how the AHL would manage having a season, Menell left the AHL and joined Dynamo Minsk in the KHL where he put up 38 points in 47 games, which was good for third on the team behind Shane Prince and Ryan Spooner, and ahead of Brandon Kozun and Rob Klinkhammer.
That’s his history/pointzalytics, and that’s about all most of the voters really know about him. Let’s dig into his rankings and why he likely landed at #24.
How We Voted
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Menell was ranked by all but two voters (Katya, Omar). All of the rankings he received were between 20 and 25, so Menell locked down one of the final spots mostly on the volume of the rest of us looking at the rest of the options this late in the rankings, shrugging, and picking the shiny new toy as a “maybe?”.
It’s interesting reading Menell’s profile on Dobber Prospects. It has short entries every year from when he signed as an undrafted free agent to now, and it was started by their former contributor and now current T25U25 voter Will Scouch. By all accounts, Menell has already done a lot to defy the odds after being cut by his high school team and going undrafted in the NHL to make something of a career for himself. The question is if he has enough to make it in the NHL?
I think pretty much all of the voters are skeptical of that, especially given his age. But that would put him in the same boat as any other prospect ranked in the 20’s.
That list of former NHLers who were Menell’s teammates in the KHL is probably a good indication for how we should treat Menell. All of them have a lot more NHL experience than Menell does, as they were able to spend at least some seasons as depth players before not being able to find other spots in North America. In the AHL and KHL, they can excel. In the NHL, they could probably continue to hold down depth spots and do okay, but NHL teams look for younger, faster, newer, or better players to fill those spots.
And now Menell will likely be joining the Marlies, once again in the AHL. On a one year deal, his interest may be in trying to work with the Leafs’ large development team and gain more hype this year to try and levy it into some kind of NHL deal next year. For the Leafs, at the very least they get another Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Martin Marincin, or Teemu Kivihalme who is good at the lower-tier professional leagues like the AHL and KHL, and can maybe fill in at the NHL level for short bursts as an injury replacement.
Here’s what some others had to say about him:
Scouch: I kind of liked this pickup for Toronto. Menell is a guy I enjoyed watching in Lethbridge, enjoyed watching with the Iowa Wild, and enjoyed watching in the KHL last season. He’s a dynamic offensive defender who should provide solid depth/injury insurance for the Leafs with some upside.
Katya: Welcome to the Marlies, guy I’ve never heard of. Scouch raises a really interesting point, though. I’ll be deeply shocked if Menell ever gets a sniff of the NHL. The signings of Dahlstrom and Biega and the attempt to get Hakanpaa show the type of defender that can crack the third pair in an emergency. So why does Dubas keep going after this clutch of mobile, puck-moving, offensive defencemen who his own coach would never in a million years play in a depth role? There’s a disconnect somewhere, and the guy listening to a dial tone is actually Timothy Liljegren, who is also behind Dahlstom and Biega in the search for ice time.
Hardev: He’s here for the Marlies. He’s an offensive defenseman, apparently, but he takes a lot of penalties and all his videos from the KHL show someone who would hate the lack of time and space available in the NHL. He got to take his time and just skate forward while a defender fell over themselves because they’d never seen a defenseman jump up in the rush. I’m not expecting much from him, plus Katya points out that his contract pays him handsomely in the AHL so that placates any need to think about him in the NHL. I’m genuinely curious how much more he brings than Duszak as a one-way player, and how they’re going to fight over PP time.
Is There Upside?
When you dig into who Menell is as a player, his style and strengths, it’s easy to see why Dubas went out and traded for him. He seems like a prototypical Dubas player. He’s a bit small, he’s a very good skater, has a good amount of offensive skill, and is that sort of defenseman-forward tweener that plays “total hockey”. The Leafs have a lot of those kinds of players in their organization: Morgan Rielly is the obvious example, but others include Mac Hollowell and Joey Duszak.
Defenseman Brennan Menell turns into forward. Successfully. pic.twitter.com/uGu92hMThk— KHL (@khl_eng) October 28, 2020
But the rest of Menell’s game is the big question mark. He’s a smaller defenseman, and while some people may say his defensive game is underrated, there’s still some doubt that his total package is good enough to be an NHLer. Earl Schwartz at TLN had a good profile of him that covered this:
The bigger question marks are in how well he can manage play in the defensive zone, and from what I can remember watching the results were more mixed. Menell actually averaged the most minutes of any player in the KHL last season, but didn’t play a ton on the PK.
Similar to Mikko Lehtonen last year though, Menell really knows how to run a powerplay. Lehtonen had a big slapshot to offer, Menell is an excellent passer who makes the most of the ice available to him. On an NHL blue line a lot of his value will come on the PP. At even strength, Menell drives the pace of play with his fast transitions, which suits Toronto well.
And then Katya’s comment raises the question: does any of that even matter?
The Leafs’ top four is locked down. They already have a billion other defenseman who have arguments to be better suited to a regular NHL role in their bottom pair: Sandin, Dermott, Liljegren, and maybe even guys like Biega and Dahlstrom. Considering the rumours that the Leafs wanted a bigger, defensive minded guy who can play on the PK for their NHL, it doesn’t leave me much optimism for Menell’s sake that he will earn and hold down a regular NHL spot. Maybe if both Rielly and Sandin miss time, and they need a more offensively minded PP quarterback.
Menell just seems like he’s in an unfortunate situation where he may very well be good enough for a third pair spot in the NHL, but he’s just never been on an NHL team that had room for him. And now he’s 24, and this may be his last shot at it — even if it’s a longshot. I wish him the best of luck, and I do think he’ll be fun to watch on the Marlies and help them improve as a team compared to the past two years.
Do think 24th is a fair ranking for Menell as of now?
This poll is closed
I ranked him much better
I didn’t even rank him
Sounds about right