Kyle Connor watch is officially on in Winnipeg.
The Michigan Wolverines saw their season come to an end on Saturday night as North Dakota dismantled their good-ish but flawed team in truly ugly fashion. The final score was 5-2, but shots were 49-27, which is fairly reflective of how the game went and deserved to have gone.
One thing to note, though, was that Connor and his line created the only two Michigan goals on the night, which was to be expected. Michigan scored 181 goals all year (not a bad total in just 38 games!), and Connor, JT Compher, and Tyler Motte combined for 83 of them. That’s almost 46 percent of the goals for one of the top 10 or so best teams in the country. Patently absurd, but it speaks to the power Connor and Co. brought to the rink every night.
A closer look
Being that Michigan is in Michigan and I live in Boston, I only got to see Connor play live once this year, but the one game I did see — vs. Boston University on Nov. 21 — he was fairly impressive, even if he wasn’t yet playing with his future linemates. He was still slumming it with two guys who signed NHL deals this week: Boo Nieves and Justin Selman. He ended up having the only assist on the fourth Michigan goal in an assured 4-2 win (shots were 38-21 Wolverines).
Connor finished that game with five shots on goal and and seven attempts in all situations, along with one attempt (blocked) at 5-on-5. But boy, his power play presence was something else. And interestingly, while five shots on goal is going to be pretty impressive just about any night, that one shot attempt at 5-on-5 was an aberration.
For the year, he averaged 3.9 SOG a night in all situations and 4.8 attempts at even strength, showing that he was unsurprisingly impressive regardless of the situations in which he was used. He also ended the season leading the nation in goals and points, and was tied for third in assists.
In terms of goals he led the nation by almost 10 percent (3 more than linemate Motte’s 32), and led in points by nearly 13 percent (8 more than Compher’s 63). He also finished third in assists (11 assists back of his Compher). His shots on goal total was equal to that of Jimmy Vesey, albeit in five additional games, to finish tied for ninth in the country.
This chart shows his progress over the course of the whole year on a per-game basis in terms of both point production and process; you can see how steady he was throughout.
The fact that he did this all as a freshman, leading the nation with 71 points, is fairly incredible. It matches the total Jack Eichel posted in three extra games played last season, and is the second-largest point total by a freshman since Paul Kariya scored 91 in 37 games against NCAA teams in 1992-93.
Last year I wrote a post comparing the two previous freshman Hobey Baker winners last year, and if you look through it you’ll find that if you era-adjust the numbers, Connor runs pretty close with both of them. In terms of goalscoring, he certainly closes the gap on Kariya. (I suspect Connor is a week and a half away from becoming the third freshman Hobey winner, because there’s almost certainly never been a national leader in goals and points who saw the award go to a different forward instead.)
This comes with the caveat that Connor did this in his draft-year-plus-1, as he’s less than two months younger than Eichel. Nonetheless, you can’t take away the fact that this is still the third-best season by a teenaged freshman in NCAA history, and the fact that it comes just a year after Eichel’s kind of deadens the impact it really ought to have.
If he were doing this a year before Eichel, people would be losing their damn minds over it. But now that it’s the second year in a row we’ve seen a freshman score 71 in a season, people are actually trying to make up reasons why Vesey — with his 11 fewer goals, 25 fewer points, and almost half a point a game fewer than Connor — deserves the Hobey instead. It’s embarrassing.
When does he sign?
This is an inevitability, but the question is whether he burns a year of his ELC before the NHL regular season comes to an end, or he waits out the Jets for reasons unknown.
Michigan coach Red Berenson actually gave a quote today along the lines of, “Yeah, why wouldn’t they try to sign him?” and last week an anonymous NHL scout, asked if Connor was NHL-ready, replied wanting to know if ESPN’s Craig Custance was joking.
This kid is r-e-a-d-y ready. Probably as ready as Eichel was. Almost no one turns NCAA hockey upside down like this most years. Not 20-year-old first-rounders. Not 22-year-old mid-rounders who needed the extra few years to mature.
I have no insight into when he signs, but he’s going to sign and will for sure be with the team next season at the very least. That’s based on nothing but observation. Connor is scarily precocious.
He has absolutely nothing to prove at this level, so he may as well move on to the next one.