When a highly-touted prospect like Kyle Connor is struggling to start out his rookie year, the idea of a little bit of AHL conditioning is always in the back of coaches and general manager’s minds. Many fans may not have considered Connor getting a stint with the Moose just yet, partly because he’s hasn’t been directly in the spotlight for the team’s first quarter of the year. The sensational start from Patrik Laine is helping shadow Connor’s struggles and that’s probably a good thing for the 19 year-old forward.
The media hasn’t really documented his dry-spell and Connor himself hasn’t really had to answer any critics, but with Connor coming back from injury and struggling to start out the year, I’m going to pose the question:
Could Kyle Connor use some time down in the AHL?
Throughout the duration of training camp, many had thought Connor could serve well in a top-9 role at the NHL level. He has the tools required for big league play and it seemed by all accounts he had earned such a spot with the Jets coming out of training camp. As the season progressed, Connor struggled mightily. His game is based around offense and 16 games in to the year he has just one goal and clearly things are not going right for him. He doesn’t seemed to have gained much trust from head coach Paul Maurice and the coaching staff as his time on ice hasn’t eclipsed the 17 minute mark this season and overall he’s averaging 13:31 minutes of ice-time a night.
What makes things even worse for Connor is the emergence of the Jets other young prospects. During the large amount of injuries the Jets have been plagued with, the team’s call-ups have been awfully impressive. Nic Petan, for example, has been playing phenomenal in a top-six role. Petan may be playing down the middle for the time being, but once Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little return, he could be moved over to the wing in a possible bottom six role and competing with Connor for ice-time.
With Petan playing his way in a top-nine spot ( for the time being ) and Drew Stafford back from injury, there honestly may not be room to insert Connor back in to the lineup.
#NHLJets line rushes this afternoon: Laine-Scheifele-Wheeler, Ehlers-Petan-Stafford, Dano-Lowry-Tanev, Copp-Burmistrov-Thorburn
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) November 24, 2016
The Jets are in an interesting situation with Connor, but there are a few different avenues they could decide to go.
The first option is they increase his minutes with the Jets. While Connor doesn’t necessarily deserve this to happen, it could be an interesting experiment. Give him a game or two on a line with an older player like Wheeler and see how he plays. See how he will fare in that kind of situation, throw him on a power play and give him one last chance in a big situation. if he begins to struggle, then that’s further indication that he should probably get some time with the Moose.
Which leads us to the second option, sending him down to the Moose. This would be done to not only give Connor more ice-time and opportunity with the Moose, but reward players like Nic Petan and Marko Dano who have earned an extended stay with the Jets and ultimately, give the Jets the best chance to win. That’s the forgotten thing in all of this, the Jets are a competitive hockey team. Winnipeg is one point out of a wild card spot and they need their best players on the ice. Along with that they need to build properly for the future, and giving Connor time in the AHL could be the best move for the long-term.
The Jets could also keep Connor in the role he’s is in now. Connor is typically playing a third line role and if he returns before Mathieu Perreault, Shawn Matthias, Bryan Little and Joel Armia, he won’t be playing with many offensively gifted players. That’s troubling for a struggling 19 year-old and he shouldn’t be expected to be driving a line’s offensive production when he has had struggles of his own even when playing with a top-six players much less players who aren’t known to generate offense.
Does Kyle Connor require AHL time?
— Jacob Stoller (@NHLStoller) November 14, 2016
Last year’s top NCAA scorer has a bright future ahead of him and that’s why his development should be taken care of the right way. We’re talking about a player that had a higher points per game total in his freshman season than Jack Eichel did.
How good is Kyle #Connor?
Jack Eichel @ BU: 26 g 71 pts in 40 games
Kyle Connor @ UM 35 g 71 pts in 38 games
— Jets Hockey Forum (@NHLWinnipeg) May 29, 2016
Along with that, like we’ve said before, the Jets are ( or at leas should be ) in the mindset of winning along with building for the future. If that means sending Connor down to further his development and give those that have earned spots more playing time, than so be it.
He needs the opportunity and ice-time to get his confidence back and a stint in the AHL could do him some good.