Building off a breakthrough: Kyle Connor

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets.

Kevin Chevaldayoff and his staff have done one thing exceptionally well during their time in Winnipeg. They have drafted as well as (or better than) pretty much any other team in the NHL, particularly in the first round.

Since 2011 their first-round picks have included Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Connor. That group has not only become the core of what is now one of the best teams in the league and what should be a Stanley Cup contender, but the Jets were able to get them while selecting mostly (Laine and Trouba excluded) in the middle of the first round. They weren’t really relying on lottery picks or tanking to get their franchise-changing players. Even the Laine draft was the result of some good fortune in the lottery (moving up from sixth to second).

In recent years Scheifele, Trouba, Ehlers, and Laine all had their breakout seasons.

This past season, it was Connor’s turn. And he was tremendous.

Playing in his first full year in the league, Connor burst on to the scene for the Jets by scoring 31 goals (most among all rookies) and finishing fourth in the Calder Trophy voting behind Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser, and Clayton Keller.

[Jets Day: 2017-18 Review | Under Pressure| Three Questions]

After a brief trip to the American Hockey League early in the season, Connor eventually found a spot on a line with the big club alongside Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, a dominant trio that helped drive the NHL’s second-best scoring offense. Even when Scheifele was sidelined for a significant chunk of the season from the end of December until early February Connor was still able to help drive the offense by scoring six goals (tops on the team) and adding six more assists.

If there was any sort of a red flag for Connor it was the simple fact he didn’t generate a ton of shots on goal (2.53 per game) and had a fairly high shooting percentage (16.8 percent), two developments that could indicate he might be due for a regression. But even that is probably a reach. If you look at comparable performances from recent NHL history it paints a pretty strong picture for what Connor could be capable of in the future.

Over the past 20 years the NHL has seen nine different players under the age of 22 put together a 30-goal season while averaging less than 2.6 shots on goal per game and carrying a shooting percentage over 15 percent (Connor scored 31 goals on 2.53 shots and 16 percent). That list includes Sean Monahan, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Bryan Little, Simon Gagne, Mike Comrie, Jordan Eberle, and Connor. The least successful player on that list is probably Comrie, and even he scored 20 goals five different times in the NHL.

In other words, there is really nothing to indicate that Connor isn’t on his way to becoming one heck of an NHL player and being a significant part of a Stanley Cup contender.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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