It was a complete turnaround for Kyle Connor during the 2017-2018 season as he started the season with the Moose and finished the year as the NHL rookie scoring leader. How did a player who got cut from the initial squad end up making his way back onto the roster and leading the NHL? Let’s find out with today’s Pilot’s Logbook.
#81 – LEFT WING
6’1″ / 182 lbs / Age: 21
Current Contract Status: Signed through 18-19 ($925,000/yr)
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PLAYER’S SEASON IN REVIEW
It’s no secret that Kyle Connor can score goals. Since going to the University of Michigan in 2015-16, he has shown elite scoring ability. This goal-scoring prowess started in college where Connor scored a whopping 35 goals in only 38 games. After turning pro, Connor continued scoring at elite levels with 25 goals in 52 games with the Manitoba Moose in 2016-17. The only question left for Connor heading into the 2017-18 season was whether or not he could continue scoring at the NHL level.
After an underwhelming training camp, Connor got sent down to the Moose and began the season in the AHL. The idea was that Connor would get called up if needed but was not ready for a full time position with the Jets. Fortunately for Connor, he didn’t have to wait long for his opportunity as early injuries took their toll on the Jets.
Connor made a strong first impression as he scored in his first game after getting called up. He followed that up with notching an assist in his second game. Connor never looked back as he was a mainstay in the lineup for the rest of the year. Although Connor got bounced around the lineup early on, he settled in nicely beside Wheeler and Scheifele and thrived as the season progressed.
Kyle Connor went from the AHL to one of the best lines in the NHL pretty much overnight and hasn't looked out of place at all #NHLJets
— Andrew Paterson (@hustlerama) November 7, 2017
The style of Connor’s game fits wonderfully alongside Scheifele and Wheeler. Connor is a natural finisher and benefits by playing with Wheeler who is an elite playmaker. Scheifele is a driver of the play and allows Connor more time and space in the offensive zone. This line fits nicely because they play with great speed off the rush but still possess a strong cycle game too.
Connor works best with two other strong players because he is not able to drive the play himself. When playing down the lineup with not as talented players, Connor looked mediocre and was unable to generate scoring chances. The ability to drive the play will come with time and it is not essential at this point in his career. Connor can play with strong linemates for another season or two while gaining the other skills to eventually drive a line himself.
Connor’s defensive play is solid and he is able to get the puck out of the zone without too much trouble. One area that could be improved upon is his decision making. Sometimes Connor carries the puck too long while trying to make a difficult play. This can result in bad turnovers that could easily be avoided. When a player is accustomed to scoring often in junior, they can sometimes feel the need to create a chance every shift. The reality in the NHL is that players do not create a chance every time they touch the ice. This realization could help Connor make simple plays instead of trying to create chances in tough situations.
The last (and probably most important) thing to mention is that Connor led all NHL rookies in scoring. When Brock Boeser went down with an injury late in the season, it opened the door for Connor to take the lead. Connor ended the season with 31 goals, a respectable total for any player, not just a rookie. He was second on the team in scoring as only Patrik Laine found the back of the net more frequently.
After a great regular season, Connor ended the year with an underwhelming playoff performance. Connor averaged 0.41 goals per game in the regular season but only tallied 0.18 goals per game in the playoffs. The interesting part is that Connor finished with more assists per game in the playoffs than the regular season so he was still producing chances. Connor had trouble scoring his first career playoff goal as he was held scoreless for the first nine games. It wasn’t until game five against Nashville that he finally scored his first goal. The fifth game against Nashville was by far Connor’s best game in the playoffs as he scored two goals and had a gorgeous assist for three points.
— JetsNation (@NHLJetsNation) May 6, 2018
Kyle Connor has one more season on his entry level deal. This means he is elligible for an extension this summer. Assuming that Connor will play next season with Scheifele and Wheeler, it would be beneficial for Cheveldayoff to try and sign Connor before next season begins. Cheveldayoff might be able to get Connor slightly cheaper if he signs him now because if Connor has a better season next year he will be worth more than he is currently. As for the value of the contract, Connor will most likely sign anywhere between $4-5 million per season.