Considering the season he’s having, it felt fitting to do a deep-dive on the pride of Shelby Township, Michigan. When you come from a town with less than 5,000 people and make the NHL, odds are you’ll become the most famous person. Barring the likes of NFL cornerback Dave Whitsell, who played 12 seasons in the NFL, Kyle Connor is that dude. Since being drafted in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the former University of Michigan alumnus has progressively increased his points total every year.
In his first full season in the ‘Peg, he tallied 57 points. In his sophomore season, he bumped up to 66 points and followed that up with 73 points in the 2019-20 season. This season, he is averaging nearly a point per game with 23, ranking him 24th in the league. For NHL general managers, there has to be no better feeling than seeing one of your draft picks continuously improve. While Kevin Cheveldayoff has had the privilege to watch his 17th overall pick blossom into a reliable left-winger, one has to ask the question, how did he get here?
As we all know, having supportive parents and friends has a tremendous impact on a person’s life. In the case of Connor, his parents wasted no time providing him with all the tools he needed to be successful. The first being that Connor’s father, Joe, built him an indoor rink in their Michigan home. But it wasn’t some makeshift rink with uneven tiles and nails sticking out. In fact, with painted ice, a mural of boards, and images of fans, it could be considered more a work of art than a rink. This allowed Connor to strap on the rollerblades and spend hours at home, simultaneously honing his skills and keeping him out of trouble.
Joe Connor followed up that masterpiece by building two outdoor rinks, including one with floodlights that allowed Kyle, his brothers Brendon and Jacob, and their friends to play until two or three in the morning. Clearly, Connor had the tools to be successful, but he credits his success to his father for always preaching hard work. When asked about his work-ethic, Connor responded, “That’s the one thing you can control as a player and in your everyday life. It’s one very key thing I’ve taken away from listening to my dad. Whether you’re having a good game or a bad game, that work ethic has got to be there no matter what. I apply that every single day…”
Thankfully, the Jets have the high-scoring winger locked up until 2026 with a cap hit of $7,142,857. While his offensive production is undeniable, in order to make a meaningful playoff push the Jets will need their young winger to increase his physical play along the boards and improve defensively. Having said that, he’s only 24-years-old and his willingness to improve all facets of his game bodes well for the Jets’ future. Plus, with the recent departure of Patrik Laine, having a sniper on the left side that can light-the-lamp on both the power-play and even-strength is crucial to compete in a competitive North Division. In fact, Connor’s six power-play goals have him tied with the likes of Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau.
Despite the recent shellacking at the hands of the struggling Montreal Canadiens, with two games in hand over the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg still sits second in the North Division. Hence why fans should be optimistic that, led by the likes of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and the pride of Shelby Township, they could make a serious splash in this year’s unique playoffs. Time will tell, but imagine Connor skating around and hoisting the Stanley Cup on the outdoor rink that his father built for him nearly 20 years ago. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, then you must not love hockey.