Matt Hendricks

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Flying under the radar: Kyle Connor’s rookie season has been quietly impressive


Tucked away behind Blake Wheeler’s career season, Patrik Laine’s 43 goals and Connor Hellebuyck’s Vezina-type season is Kyle Connor’s impressive rookie campaign.

I’d be open to suggestions, but you’d be hard-pressed to show me another rookie having a more impressive season than Connor is that is also seemingly flying under the radar in the National Hockey League.

Up until about week ago, no one outside of Winnipeg was talking about the former Hobey Baker runner-up. And there’s a good reason for that given that Laine was doing things that, historically, no teenager had ever done.

“Everything goes under the radar when you play for Winnipeg,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler this past Tuesday. “He’s been one of the huge X-factors for our team. Him stepping into our lineup and contributing at the rate he’s contributed at, it’s a huge reason why we sit where we are today. He was a got that you had high hopes for coming into the year, but obviously a little bit of a question mark. You didn’t really know what you were going to get. He’s taken the opportunity that he’s got this year and done a great job.”

Connor, like he has all season, just carried on working in the shadows of others. Piling up the goals until there was no choice but to take notice at what he’s doing.

Connor’s 28 goals are just one goal back of Brock Boeser for the rookie goal-scoring lead, something that Connor should surpass before the end of the season given his recent success in that department. He’s second the Jets with five game-winners.

“It’s nice to have the coach have confidence in you,” Connor said. “To be able to go out there and try to make something happen and get a chance for game-winnernner.”

Connor is picking up 1.8 primary points per 60 minutes played and his goals-per-60 is sitting at 1.3.

He also has a little streak going for himself, with two overtime goals in the Jets past two games, becoming the second rookie ever to accomplish the quirky feat.

And he’s done so by using his speed to create space for himself in open ice.

There’s not much of a case to be made for Connor and the Calder — that belongs to Mathew Barzal. But Connor should be in the conversation, if only for the recognition of what he’s done.

Unlike the Barzals, the Boesers and the Kellers and the Gourdes, Connor didn’t begin the season with the big club. Instead, the 21-year-old former Michigan Wolverine didn’t make the grade for the opening day roster out of training camp. He was just mediocre. And with a team oozing with offensive talent, mediocre wasn’t going to cut it.

Connor, banished to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, played four games for the Jets farmhand, collecting three goals and five points, before his stay across the hall at Bell MTS Place came to an abrupt end.

Injuries to Adam Lowry, Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault meant the Jets needed some reinforcements, so Winnipeg recalled Connor on Oct. 16.

He hasn’t looked back since.

Connor’s recalled came with a period spent playing with Bryan Little and Laine before he was promoted to the top line.

It hadn’t worked out with Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers on the top unit, and moving other pieces meant a cascading effect and a lot of line juggling. If Connor could fill in the void, the Jets could concentrate on getting their other three lines right.

So there was a chance and a challenge: prove he can keep up with the relentless pace of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and you’ll stay right where you’re at.

Connor obliged.

Outside of a few hiccups — dropping down to the third and fourth lines at times — Connor has become an important piece on Winnipeg’s top line — a shifty player with a knack for finding enough space in front to get a quality scoring opportunity.

“He’s awesome. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said after Connor’s game-winner on Friday. “He goes to the right spots. He battles hard in the corner, he goes to the right areas, he goes to the dirty areas. He does everything so well and obviously, his knack for scoring is top notch. He’s been really fun to play with this season. It’s exciting to see him grow like that.”

Connor has exploded for six goals in his past eight games, but it’s perhaps what he learned in an eight-game drought prior that’s played an important role in what he’s been doing lately.

“So, he’s played a lot of good games, but the game in Carolina, he doesn’t score, plays exceptionally well and I think he was really working hard all that stretch, he had that little block there where he wasn’t scoring,” Maurice said on Friday. “He seems to me that he’s relaxed a little bit when the puck is on his stick. Confidence for any player is such an important thing and can’t be given to anybody, you get one and then all the sudden you get that good feeling and then you attach that good feeling to some really good play. He’d been playing very, very well and not scoring, so he wasn’t very far off it and a little bit of confidence and away he goes.”

The only real pressure on Connor is what he puts on himself in Winnipeg. There’s enough heavy lifting happening, so Connor has had the freedom of figuring out his game and what works.

“Well, you can never be too comfortable in this league,” Connor said. “Something I learned through this year is you’ve got to bring it every day. You’ve got to prove yourself. I think I’m getting more confident every game I play but I don’t think I’m too comfortable. You come to the rink and you’ve got to prove yourself.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Should Winnipeg Jets stand pat at trade deadline?

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There are whispers that the Winnipeg Jets could stand pat at the trade deadline and get away with it.

It’s not necessarily the most popular opinion, but one that has gained a small following given how their season has shaped up to this point.

The growth of rookie forward Kyle Connor, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Sunday, has been impressive. Connor went from a mediocre training camp that saw him begin the season in the American Hockey League to play a vital role on Winnipeg’s top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Jack Roslovic began the season in the AHL and was only called up recently to fill in the gaps as Winnipeg’s health began to deteriorate. Now, Roslovic, a dynamic player with speed and play-making ability, has performed so well that he likely won’t see the minors again.

The Jets are also anticipating the return of towering center Adam Lowry (out with an upper-body injury) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (out with a lower-body injury) by the time the playoffs roll around, turning into quasi-trade deadline additions.

The Jets, who have scored 13 goals in their past two games, are as good as any other team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. A recent adjustment to their lines — one that included putting 20-plus goal scorers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on the third unit — has diversified Winnipeg’s top-nine to a scary extent.

The Jets have three lines that are capable, at the moment, of putting up a lot of points on any given night. So the argument that the Jets don’t need to add someone to their top-six, or even their top-nine, has some merit.

That said, as the old sports cliche goes: there’s always room to improve. The Jets could still use some depth on the fourth line. Matt Hendricks, while a good presence in the room and a decent penalty killer, isn’t the quickest player on the ice. Joel Armia shows flashes of brilliance and then goes on long stretches where he’s mostly invisible. The return of Brandon Tanev from injury will be useful in that regard. But adding a budget center could be the shrewd move general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to solidify a solid fourth-line combo.

On defense, Ben Chiarot has played admirably in place of Trouba but he may be a surplus to requirements when Trouba returns. One wonders what Cheveldayoff is thinking when it comes to Toby Enstrom, however. The diminutive defenseman had a tough outing in the physical department during the Jets last playoff appearance — their only visit since returning to Winnipeg — during the 2014-15 season. And his injury history should have the Jets thinking about at least shoring up that possibility.

The Jets could turn to Chiarot’s size and physicality in a similar scenario or could turn to the trade market for another option.

This is a good headache for any general manager. The Jets are one of the top teams in the NHL without having made a trade thus far this season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, their power play has been lethal and their penalty kill is up near the top. Bell MTS Place has become a place teams go to die and the Jets, at the moment, would have home-ice advantage in the first round.

It makes for an interesting week leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.

Here’s a look at what the Jets could be/are considering:


Rick Nash: A pricey rental player that would add size and scoring to the Jets top-six. But pricey is the key word here and it’s unlikely the Jets want to dig into the farm to own a guy for a couple months.

Mike Hoffman: Skilled and quick with the ability to score. He would be a good fit for the Jets, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the weekend, Hoffman has a limited no-movement clause and Winnipeg is on the list. With term left on his deal, the price wouldn’t be cheap either.

Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu: Two depth forwards that would bolster Winnipeg’s bottom end. Maroon isn’t the fastest guy around, and he’s not scoring 27 goals like he did last season playing with Connor McDavid. But a fresh start after not getting a contract in Edmonton might be just what Maroon needs to get his confidence up and running. Letestu, meanwhile, offers bottom-six depth up the middle. Matt Hendricks, currently occupying the fourth-line center role, didn’t play in last year’s playoffs for the Oilers. He could make way again depending on what the Jets do at the deadline. These would be cheaper options.

Ryan Hartman: It would be odd for the Chicago Blackhawks to trade a 23-year-old budding forward to a divisional rival, but stranger things have happened. Hartman had 19 goals in his rookie season last year and is playing on a very poor Blackhawks team this year. The price tag is likely high on him as well.

Mats Zuccarello: The New York Rangers announced they were holding a yard sale, and Zuccarello is a name that’s been thrown around when it comes to the Jets. Zuccarello is a good penalty killer and plays a game, not unlike Mathieu Perreault, who the Jets covet. Zuccarello also comes with an extra year on his contract. and could help the Jets beyond this season.


Nick Holden: Continuing with the Rangers fire sale, Holden could be an option. He’s a left shot defenseman that could fill in for an injury to Enstrom. Holden’s possession metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s a serviceable third-pairing guy who can play bigger minutes in a pinch.

Jan Rutta: One player the Blackhawks may be willing to part ways with is defenseman Rutta, who is on a one-year entry-level deal that’s set to expire at the end of this season. Rutta shoots right and has better possession metrics than Holden.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL hands out fines, including for Byfuglien slash


Be sure to visit and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The NHL’s CBA makes for quite the variety of allowable fines, as Wednesday’s verdicts from the Department of Player Safety showed.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Dustin Byfuglien, Matt Hendricks spend day off capturing monster fish (Photo)

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The Winnipeg Jets had some down time on Tuesday after beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 for their first victory of the season. Matt Hendricks and Dustin Byfuglien took advantage and spent the day fishing — and boy did they come home with a catch.

With help from fishing company Sturgeon Slayers, the Jets teammates took to the Fraser River in British Columbia and caught this monster.

The players couldn’t take it home because sturgeon are a threatened species, so the monster was released after posing for some photos.

Of course, this accomplishment didn’t happen without a bit of grumbling from some Jets fans. They were upset that Byfuglien, who sat out Monday’s game in Edmonton with a lower-body injury, was fishing instead of remaining in his hotel room covered in bubble wrap and hot towels. Head coach Paul Maurice, however, did not care.

“He had treatment. [He] did what he needed to do. [It’s a] soft-tissue issue,” Maurice said on Wednesday via the Winnipeg Free Press. “None at all. Just a little bit jealous, but no issue at all.”

Byfuglien will take the morning skate in Vancouver on Thursday but will not play against the Canucks. He’s considered day-to-day. Hendricks has been on injured reserve since the start of the season.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.


Flyers loan Matt Read to AHL, reminding us that NHL cuts can be cruel


With two seasons of at least 22 goals, Matt Read seems like the sort of player who should be able to secure an NHL job.

Maybe he’ll be back with the Philadelphia Flyers again at some point in 2017-18, but he’s slated to begin the season in the AHL after the Flyers loaned Read to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Tuesday. This comes after Read cleared waivers.

The 31-year-old will still cost the Flyers quite a bit of money in cap space, even though he’s playing in the AHL.

It all feels like such a waste, doesn’t it?

Really, though, Read is just the latest in a slew of players who seem too good for the AHL but can’t quite land with a team in the NHL. In Read’s case, it’s almost certainly a matter of cost. But it’s staggering that, even with the number of teams growing to 31, some quality players can’t seem to find work.

(Even in a salary retention scenario, it might be tough to work out a taker for Read.)

This is also part of the reason why people get a little grumpy when the likes of Tanner Glass and Matt Hendricks continue to land one-way contracts. Just consider some of the quality players who either couldn’t get a contract at all or find themselves in the AHL:

  • Brandon Pirri, a player who managed a 22-goal campaign in just 49 games back in 2014-15, was released from his PTO. He couldn’t impress enough in his tryout with the Florida Panthers, the team most likely to believe in his abilities (since he achieved his best numbers with the Cats).
  • Analytics darling P.A. Parenteau couldn’t catch on with the (potentially dreadful) Detroit Red Wings.
  • Struggling former first-rounders such as Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett were placed on waivers. Andrew Hammond, Malcolm Subban, and other fairly noteworthy goalies struggle to find footholds.
  • Cory Conacher ranks as one of the classic examples of a “AAAA player.” He puts up great AHL numbers but, beyond a blip of NHL activity, can’t seem to stick at that level. One can’t help but wonder if the likes of Etem and Bennett may join him under that designation.
  • Even players who catch on sometimes struggle more than you’d think. It’s strange how down-to-the-wire the Jaromir Jagr signing ended up being, especially since the Calgary Flames signed him for cheap. Cody Franson may catch on with the Chicago Blackhawks, yet you’d think a solid depth defenseman would go through a smoother process.

Yup, the NHL can be cruel, especially to players who don’t generate reputations as “grit guys” and/or “leaders in the room.”

Read finding himself in the AHL comes down to a number of factors; to some extent, it’s a testament to the young talent Flyers GM Ron Hextall has amassed, with the likes of Nolan Patrick making the cut.

Still, there are teams that will put some paltry players on the ice in 2017-18, and fans may grumble when they consider the talent that’s either stuck in the AHL or without an easy path to the NHL altogether.

While Read wasn’t claimed, there were some notable claims made on Tuesday. Check out this post for further details on Subban and Patrik Nemeth.