After a strong preseason showing with the Winnipeg Jets, Kyle Connor was demoted to the Jets’ affiliate team in Manitoba towards the end of November. However, there is little reason to lose faith in Connor and his abilities, especially when we’ve seen the talent that he possesses and how well he is capable of playing.
During the preseason, it was easy to see why Connor would be making the Jets’ opening night roster. The Michigan-native posted three goals, one assist, and was a plus-two in five exhibition games. He also showed his dominance on the power play where he scored two goals and created countless chances for other players, showcasing his high hockey IQ and unselfish play with the puck.
Going into the season, it looked as if though Connor would have no issue transitioning from NCAA hockey to the NHL with his natural skill set, especially after posting 35 goals and 71 points in 38 games with the University of Michigan the year before. He has a knack for scoring and putting points on the board, now he just needs to find a way to make it happen at the highest level of hockey.
Mold the Moose
After a less-than-stellar outing with the Jets to start the season, Connor was demoted to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League to further his development after posting just one assist in the month of November. Since joining the Moose, Connor has collected five goals and five assists to go along with a minus-10 rating in 19 games. While he’s slowly finding ways to put up points, his defensive game remains a liability and this is what’s likely keeping him from playing at the NHL level. There’s still some work to do, but he’s improving.
Season End Return?
If the Jets are in a position where they know they won’t be contending in the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it may be worth calling up Connor for the final few games of the season to inject the young winger with some confidence. We’ve seen other teams do it before with some of their younger players and the results have been fruitful.
Take Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils, for example. Zacha concluded his Junior season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League last year and was then given the chance to play with the Devils in their final game of the season where, he collected two assists and finished a plus-four on the night. He finished his season playing three games with the Albany Devils in the AHL, posting a goal and two assists.
This season, Zacha has played 40 games with the Devils and has collected nine points while adjusting to the NHL as a two-way forward. Though production has never been the forward’s strong suit, and still doesn’t seem to be, he is still with the Devils organization and is starting to fit into the league. Given the chance to play in the NHL, a player’s confidence will likely improve.
While Connor was given the opportunity to gain some NHL experience at the start of the season, the tryout, unfortunately, didn’t work out and the Jets were forced to send him down to the AHL for further development. If Connor can make his way back into the Jets’ lineup for a few games before season’s end it would be a boost for him and an investment for the Jets in the long run.
The Winnipeg Jets have 33 games left to play before their regular season ends (32 after Monday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks). Will we see Connor back in a Jets uniform before the final whistle blows on the season, or will the Jets opt to keep him in the minors for a full year of development at the AHL level? Either way, it’s too early to give up on Connor. He still has the potential to be the next big thing in Winnipeg, it’s just a matter of when.