Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports
With the 17th overall pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft the Winnipeg Jets selected Kyle Connor from the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.
Connor is a heady centre with excellent stick handling skills and plus skating ability. He fits in with Kevin Cheveldayoff’s usual high-upside modus operandi, and is among the player most highly regarded by the PCS tool with a 50% success rate and comparables that include Erik Cole, Paul Statsny, Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty.
This could be a steal of a pick for the Jets, as many had Connor going much higher in the draft (he was 7th on the Nation Network’s draft board).
Here’s what Nation Network contributor MoneyPuck found when he dug further into Connor’s age 17 season:
In his draft year, he led the USHL in scoring by 9 points while in his 16 year-old season he was 2nd in the league. Players in his 17 year-old cohort included Paul Stastny, Erik Cole, and Max Pacioretty, while his 16 year-old cohort included Colin Wilson, Brandon Saad, and Thomas Vanek. If you make the (pretty safe) assumption that both Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker will hit 200 career NHL games, that would give Connor an 88% PCS% as a 16-year old, and a 100% 17-year old PCS% since 1996 – as close to a guaranteed NHL player as anyone not named “McDavid” or “Eichel.”
To stress test his PCS results a bit, I did a bit of digging into the overall makeup of his Youngstown team, to try to discern whether Connor was really this good, or maybe his results were inflated based on being on a really good team, as is quite common in the junior ranks. This year, Youngstown had one of the better offenses in the USHL, scoring at a 3.9 goals/game clip, but it was clear Connor was driving the bus, contributed on 37% of the team’s total points, and 16% of the teams goals. To provide context, this is pretty comparable some of the top CHL players in this year’s draft, the closest match being Dylan Strome (TmPT% 39.5%, TmG% 11.4%).
What is even more impressive was his results from his 16 year-old season, where the Phantoms had a far less potent offense, scoring 2.9 goals/game, and they had to lean even more heavily on the then 16 year-old Connor (TmPT% 46%, TmG% 19%). He didn’t have the benefit of having team mates of the quality of Connor McDavid, Strome, or Max Domi, and it’s clear he was the one driving the success of this year’s Youngstown team.
Projecting the future career of an 18-year-old is a tough game, but it sure looks like the Jets have made a savvy bet by selecting Connor with their first of two picks in the first-round.