Players in the NHL’s Western Conference have never really been given a fair shake of the stick unless they have been names like Connor McDavid or Wayne Gretzky thanks to a phenomenon known as eastern bias. Thanks to the lack of attention for the games that come on later in the night (and too late for many fans to be awake) players in the west can fly under the radar, even if they have been one of the better players in the league.
This is something Anze Kopitar has had to deal with for many years. Just imagine how popular he would be if he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Rangers. There is a new victim to eastern bias, and his name is Kyle Connor, one of the league’s most underrated young talents.
Connor was born in 1996 in Clinton Township, Michigan, and played his college hockey for the University of Michigan in the NCAA. The Winnipeg Jets selected him 17th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, a draft that included McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitchell Marner, Ivan Provorov, and Thomas Chabot. A loaded class to say the least.
In college, Connor scored 71 points in just 38 games. Expecting a scoring pace like that to continue right away in the NHL would have been impossible, but he struggled more than the Jets could have expected in the 2016-17 season. As a rookie in the league, Connor scored just two goals in his first 20 games. He would add three assists to bring his point total to five on the season.
Despite the struggles at the NHL level, he found some success in the AHL. With the Manitoba Moose that season, Connor scored 25 goals in 52 games and began to come alive. He spent four games in the AHL in the 2017-18 season where he scored another five points, but would never see the AHL again.
In the NHL for 2017-18, Connor cracked the 30-goal mark. He ended the season with 31 goals, a mark that had him in the 28th spot in the NHL’s goal-scoring race. Since then, he hasn’t had a season with fewer than 30 goals, and last season, he likely would have hit the 40-goal mark had the season not been cut short.
To start off the 2020-21 season, Connor has scored seven goals in the Jets’ 11 games and has added another five assists to bring him over a point-per-game pace. He has stepped up for the Jets and really become their primary offensive weapon, something that Patrik Laine was drafted to be. He has been able to emerge as one of the NHL’s best young stars in Winnipeg, but still, no one is talking about him.
Why Don’t We Hear About Him?
As said before, eastern bias is the root of the cause as to why we don’t hear about Connor very often, but what is eastern bias? As suggested by the name, it’s simply a bias shown to players who play in eastern markets like Toronto or New York. There are a slew of things that cause this to happen, but none of them are particularly fair to the player.
The most important thing to think about when talking about eastern bias is the time zone of the game. If a night game is being played in Vancouver or Los Angeles, it won’t start until 10 p.m. for hockey fans in the eastern time zone. Many fans are already heading to bed and won’t be watching the full game if they catch any of it.
When you look at the inverse of this, a game in Toronto or Montreal can reasonably be seen by everyone in the country. The league’s better players will get the recognition they deserve, especially if they play in the Eastern Conference. A prime example of this is Tyler Toffoli spending the first eight years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings.
Despite scoring more than 20 goals on four occasions so far in his NHL career, talk of Toffoli only really started this season with the Montreal Canadiens. He has been much better this season than he has been in the past, but he has always been a talented goal scorer in the NHL. He was just another name in the Western Conference that was allowed to fly under the radar for the average NHL fan.
Since heading to Montreal and paired with his hot start, Toffoli has been the talk of the town and gotten headlines like never before. Only the best of the best can escape the eastern bias. Players like McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Gretzky were able to gather the attention they deserve, but that’s only because they are the absolute best of the best.
As good as Connor is, you would have to be insane to say he is on the level of the players listed here. He still deserves some more attention, especially from some of the biggest sports broadcasting companies in Canada like TSN and Sportsnet, but the current situation in the NHL might actually be beneficial to him in that regard.
Is the North Division Actually Helping?
The NHL’s North Division offers something that is only happening in a couple of other instances in the NHL right now, and that’s the ability to play a large number of games against teams who you don’t see more than twice in a normal season. With the Jets playing the North Division’s eastern teams 26 times in the season, there should be a better chance of Connor being recognized as one of the league’s better youngsters.
Under normal circumstances, the Senators, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens would only play the Jets a combined six times each season. It’s a very small sample size for the fans of those teams to get a taste of what Connor is really all about, but with the increased number of games, there should be more time for those fans and media to see how truly talented Connor is.
He will need to continue producing at a high level like he has been since he became a full-time NHLer in the 2017-18 season, but that is something that he has been able to do so far. As it stands right now, the Jets are yet to play any substantial number of games against the teams normally in the Eastern Conference and he is still criminally underrated by many NHL fans, but the day where that is no longer true could be coming sooner rather than later.
If you haven’t yet seen what Connor is for the Jets, do yourself a favour and check it out. If a talent like this is going to fly under the radar in the NHL, it proves just how spoiled we are with fantastic players all over the league. He isn’t the first to fall victim to the eastern bias and he won’t be the last, but he might just be one of the lucky ones who gets some attention, even if it comes in a less than ideal season.