Kyle Connor Gets Robbed Once Again

At this point, Kyle Connor has to be wondering what he has to do to get some respect.

Connor, who led the NCAA in scoring as a freshman this season, was seemingly a slam-dunk to win the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top hockey player. He had an eight point lead on JT Compher for the NCAA scoring crown, led the nation in goals with 35, matched Jack Eichel’s 71 points as a freshman in two fewer games, and led his team to the final eight. The award seemed in the bag.

Then, earlier today, the hockey world was shocked to learn the award was instead going to Harvard senior Jim Vesey. While Vesey had a strong offensive season of his own, you have to scroll all the way to 17 on the scoring chart to find him. He finished with 11 fewer goals and 25 fewer points than Connor.

Given that I have been one of Connor’s staunchest supporters this season it would be tempted to dismiss my views as total homerism. I get that. I haven’t been subtle about the fact that I have bought into the hype on this kid from the beginning. Don’t get thinking it’s just me who was surprised by this, however.

Trying to be as objective possible here (really!), the numbers don’t lie. 71 points is more than 46. I checked. I’m no mathematician but that does seem to tip the scales in Connor’s favour.

What makes those already-incredible numbers all the more remarkable is that Connor did this as a freshman. Only two other players (Eichel and Paul Kariya) have led the NCAA in scoring as a freshman. Both players deserved, and won, the Hobey Baker Award.

So what’s the deal, Hobey Baker voters?

Another Snub for Connor

Those who’ve followed his season will recall this is not the first time Connor has been snubbed. He was a surprise omission from Team USA’s World Junior selection camp roster, and I promise I’m almost done beating that deceased equine creature.

At this point, one wonders what more he could’ve done to win the award. Scored 40 goals? Hit 80 points? Slain a bear in single combat at centre ice with his hockey stick? I’m sure any of those would’ve helped (some more than others).

Listen, the purpose of this article, or rant, is not to dump on Jim Vesey, nor to spoil what I’m sure is a very special moment for him and his family. He had a very solid season with 46 points in 33 games in what is an admittedly tougher group in the ECAC; by all accounts, the B1G conference Connor played in was weaker this year. But 25 points weaker? One doubts it. Connor wasn’t exactly invisible against the tough teams either, scoring big goals in big games, including this jaw-dropper against Minnesota.

Yes, Vesey had a very solid season. But the Hobey Baker isn’t given to the NCAA’s most solid player. It is reserved for its most outstanding, and that, in every way that mattered, was Kyle Connor. He led his team to a birth in the final eight (something Vesey’s Harvard squad failed to do) and was eliminated only by a championship calibre UND team. He was a driving force behind one of the most dangerous lines in all of hockey, to the point where USA hockey is considering using them at the upcoming World Championships.

And yes, he led the NCAA in scoring as a freshman. We keep coming back to that, but how can you not? When you can count on one hand (specifically a hand missing a thumb and pinky finger) the number of players who’ve achieved what you have offensively in a league as old and storied as the NCAA, you know you’ve done something remarkable.

And maybe that’s the biggest thing for Jets fans to take away from all this. Connor’s second snub of the season hasn’t in any way diminished the amazing feats of scoring he performed this year. It hasn’t changed the fact that he is a grade-A offensive prospect. It hasn’t altered the blindingly bright future for this young man. And, refreshingly, it hasn’t changed his professional, sportsmanlike approach to his situation.

Given everything that’s happened, I credit the young man for a mature, professional response (once again) to a situation that seems horribly unfair to him. He’s surely disappointed, and who can blame him, but he’s channeled that disappointment appropriately in the public eye. The Jets wanted to see Connor mature in the NCAA, and evidence seems to indicate he’s done just that, mentally at least.

Yes, there’s no doubt in my mind he was snubbed for the Hobey Baker, and there’s no doubt in my mind politics played their part in this. His remarkable numbers can’t be ignored, and his incredible freshman season hasn’t been in any way reduced by the poor judgement of the Hobey Baker Award’s voters. This is still an incredibly talented hockey player, and one of the top prospects in the entire world.

But the most encouraging thing of all? I remember what happened the last time Connor was snubbed for something. I’m sure the Minnesota Golden Gophers do too.

If Connor approaches this oversight with the same “I’ll show them” attitude he showed after the last one, what he does next could be downright frightening. This is a blip on the radar of a great career in the making.

But darn it, the kid should still have won.