The Dallas Stars’ inexperienced, offensive-minded defense recently got even younger, less experienced and more offensively inclined. In spite of the way that sounds, the change is actually an improvement.
The Stars placed 24-year-old defenseman Kevin Connauton on waivers Monday after a mostly forgettable stint with the franchise, and he was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. The move opened the door for another young prospect to be called up and fight for ice time. Young energy and a battle for a roster spot could provide a spark in the most troublesome aspect of the team this season.
The Stars acquired Connauton in the trade that sent Derek Roy to the Vancouver Canucks on April 2, 2013. Connauton was a bright prospect with offensive potential. He tallied 31 goals and 81 points in 206 games in the AHL before arriving in Dallas. Before that, he posted an impressive 72-point season with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.
Upon his arrival, Connauton was sent to Austin, where he added six points in nine games with the Texas Stars. The 2013-2014 season was a tumultuous one for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Edmonton native. He was kept in the NHL partly for hope that could make an impact and mostly because he would have to go through waivers. He spent nearly all of October and November of last season as a healthy scratch because of that. He played only one game before being put in the lineup more regularly in December. A spot in the lineup opened up when the Stars went through a rough stretch of injuries to their defensive unit.
Connauton’s ice time fluctuated between 10 and 18 minutes per game. His offensive game never seemed to show itself as he finished the season with one goal and seven assists in 36 games. In four playoff games last season, he registered no goals, no assists, no shots and 16 penalty minutes in less while averaging less than 11 minutes of ice time.
This Season’s Battles
Before this season started, Connauton found himself in a battle for ice time with a few youngsters. Patrik Nemeth moved ahead of him on depth chart with an impressive end to last season. Connauton’s main competition seemed to be Jamie Oleksiak, who was also getting his best shot at making the big club this season. Sergei Gonchar was hurt in the preseason and Nemeth suffered a season-ending laceration early on, opening the door for competition. Connauton found himself pushed aside by Oleksiak. Even Jokipakka stood out more in his three games before being sent down to the AHL.
After the Stars traded Gonchar to the Montreal Canadiens, a prospect took over the spotlight and pushed Connauton out even further. John Klingberg has been a bright spot during the team’s struggles in the five games he has skated. With the emergence of Klingberg, Oleksiak’s decent play and mammoth size and Jyrki Jokipakka’s impressive play in the AHL and NHL, Connauton’s days were numbered. In eight games this season, Connauton registered two assists, six penalty minutes and a plus-4 while averaging 12:05 minutes of ice time.
Despite his less than stellar play, there was no way one of the other 29 teams in the NHL would not take a chance on Connauton. He is a mobile defender with good size, good speed and a decent shot. In 44 NHL games, all with the Stars, he registered one goal, 10 points, 22 penalty minutes and 66 shots. He showed a lot of potential in the minors, so perhaps more ice time and a consistent role could help him elevate his game. He should be able to find that with the Blue Jackets.
Here’s to hoping the Stars and Connauton both find a way to turn their seasons around.
Kevin Connauton said he was hoping someone would claim him off waivers, but he tried not to get his hopes up. Pretty pumped to join #CBJ.
— Rob Mixer (@RobMixer) November 19, 2014