This post is part of Jets Day on PHT…
Kyle Connor didn’t make “the leap” with the Winnipeg Jets last season, but he took quite a few baby steps.
He appeared in 20 regular-season games with Winnipeg in 2016-17, managing two goals and five points. The majority of his appearances came early in the campaign with one exception: an April 8 appearance where he carried over strong AHL work with a goal.
Sadly, Connor received an unfortunate “welcome to the NHL” moment already, as this boarding hit by Kyle Clifford served as an uncomfortable introduction to the physical side of the league:
That aside, Connor really was impressive with the Manitoba Moose, and he seems to be a pretty quick learner overall.
In just 52 games in the AHL, Connor scored 25 goals and 44 points. This continued the momentum from his season with Michigan in the NCAA, when he managed 35 goals and 71 points in just 38 games as he became a Hobey Baker finalist in 2015-16.
Every sign points to the 20-year-old being an impact player, right down to being a high draft pick (17th overall in 2015).
“You have to experience it,” Connor said. “Once I moved down [to Manitoba], it was a bit upsetting, of course, and it took a couple of games more than I wanted to adjust. But once I did, I worked with the staff really well and the stuff they wanted me to implement into my game. I thought that made a huge difference, and you could see it toward the end of my season.”
Jets fans might get to see that difference in 2017-18, especially after Winnipeg parted ways with some veterans who might have otherwise stood in the way of Connor and fellow promising forward Jack Roslovic.
(Roslovic could probably be considered the “1b” to Connor’s “1a” as far as Jets looking to make the leap.)
It should be fascinating to see how Paul Maurice might use Connor if he does indeed cement his status as an everyday NHL forward.
Will Connor still need to earn Maurice’s trust after only averaging 12:13 time on ice during his rookie looks last season? Connor could conceivably benefit if the Jets try to spread the wealth with talented forwards or possibly suffer a bit if the team instead loads up (i.e. putting Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele on the same, potent line once again).
There are a variety of ways this could turn out, with the possibilities including another AHL demotion.
Even so, it looks exceedingly likely that Connor will continue his upward trend with the Jets this coming season.