As injuries plague the Jets’ top-nine, it’s no surprise that 2015 first-round draft pick Kyle Connor, whose recorded five points in four contests with the Manitoba Moose this season, has been summoned to add some scoring punch.
With Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault on the shelf, the divide between the Jets top and bottom six further widens and in lieu of such, Winnipeg better hope that the third time’s the charm in regards to Connor, as his last two outings with the club weren’t enough for him to secure a full-time spot with the big club.
Fresh-off a 71-point campaign with the Michigan Wolverines, which saw him finish first in NCAA scoring and being a nominee for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award, Connor cracked the Jets lineup at the start of the 2016-2017 season. Connor remained with the Jets for 20 games and recorded a mere five points, and as a result of his low offensive-impact along with his poor defensive play, Connor was sent down to the Moose on December 9th. Connor responded to the demotion in stride and recorded 44 points in 52 games with the Moose, which warranted him a brief one-game call-up with the Jets for their final game against Nashville.
In his second stint with the Jets that season, Connor gave Jets fans a glimpse of what he could bring to the table the following season, as he potted his second career goal, utilizing his blazing speed to create a two-on-one, and putting the cherry on top with a slick wrist shot.
Entering last months pre-season, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Connor would be on the opening night roster. But after underperforming during the pre-season and failing to record a point even as he skated alongside top-six forwards, Connor was sent to the Moose.
After the Moose’s home-opener on Friday night (in which Connor picked up an assist accumulated five shots), the 20-year-old prospect touched on what the Jets told him to work on with the Moose. “Just keep improving my game and to keep working on the little things in all areas and using my speed,” said Connor. The speedy-winger also noted he has already seen an improvement in staying on the puck and playing a full 200-foot game. And he’s right–Connor looked night-and-day from last year with the Moose.
Now, an opportunity has arisen for Connor, and it’s time for him to capitalize.
Dominating in the AHL is one thing, but transitioning full-time to the NHL game, especially in a top-six role, is a whole other ball-game. Can Connor finally break-through and remain with the Jets on a full-time basis?
If the Jets provide him with opportunities, he should.
Based on Monday morning’s practice, it looks like Connor will get his chances right away as he’ll skate on the team’s second line alongside Bryan Little and Patrik Laine. Connor’s north-south game could compliment that trio nicely, and ice-time on the teams second power-play unit could be where we see Connor shine from the get-go. Getting Connor to play with talented line-mates, especially early-on, will hopefully garner the young prospect some confidence. But once Adam Lowry returns and inevitably is placed back with Shawn Matthias, it may even be worthwhile to plug Connor alongside them.
Connor can provide the Jets more than just a top-six bandaid–he can help round out a balanced attack throughout the Jets top-nine.
The Jets third line could use someone like Connor, as the countless amount of missed 2-on-1’s from Matthias and Lowry are hard to watch, as their hard forechecking is yet to be rewarded, with both being held scoreless thus far in the season. Matthias and Lowry are yet to have a skilled finisher on their wing, and once the Jets injuries heal, Connor could become the missing piece to the team’s third line, if Paul Maurice opts to slot Connor out of the top-six.
Connor skated alongside AHL vets Patrice Cormier and J.C Lipon last year, and Connor’s performance along the two points to a possible match with Matthias and Lowry. Alike Matthias and Lowry, Cormier and Lipon are forecheckers that can cycle the puck effectively, but they aren’t known for their finishing abilities. Alongside the two long-time AHL forwards, Connor was the offensive component to the line, as the trio ran an effective cycle, which usually resulted in Connor orchestrating a goal, and adding speed to an energy line.
Matthias and Lowry generate a countless amount of scoring chances, but they can never finish. Add Connor to the equation, and you’ve got a finisher that could result in an efficient third line. To win over the trust of coach Paul Maurice, Connor will have to silence any doubt on his defensive game, and the best way to do that?
Produce on the score sheet, and on the man-advantage.
If Connor can’t capitalize, and his defensive game continues to disappoint, Connor could be in some serious trouble, as he would have botched another opportunity with the Jets, despite his dominance with the Moose.