Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor among star NHL rookies flying under the radar

Author: Steve Dangle, Sportsnet.ca
Date: Mar 9, 2018

The hangover from this year’s Trade Deadline is a mean one.

I can barely remember anything from the past two months that isn’t a trade rumour and pretty much everyone around me is injured now. What the heck happened?

With the deadline well in the rear view mirror, allow me to talk about a player who I’ve completely ignored this season and I should absolutely feel shame for doing so.

The Calder Trophy race seems to have come down to three players.

There’s Charlie McAvoy, Boston’s minute-eating defender who has been an enormous part of one of the best teams in the league this season. Unfortunately for Boston, and his Calder hopes, he’ll be out for the next four weeks.

Them there’s Brock Boeser, the Canucks’ rookie who couldn’t stop scoring goals if he tried. A bunch of them on Hockey Night in Canada, no less. Unfortunately for Vancouver, and his Calder hopes, a freak injury will likely keep him out until next season.

Lastly, there’s Matthew Barzal, who’s clearly running away with the Calder. At 69 points in 67 games to date, people don’t even blink when he has a five-point night anymore. He’ll win the Calder in a walk.

But the three-headed monster of McAvoy, Boeser and Barzal has somewhat overshadowed the fact that this season’s rookie class is quite deep beyond them.

Yanni Gourde of the Tampa Bay Lightning has gotten some recent attention playing in the Atlantic. Nico Hischier has the first overall glow and has backed it up with his play. Alex DeBrincat is making scouts look silly. Come on – 39th overall in 2016? Really?

But the rookie I want to fully cop to ignoring for far too long this season:

Kyle Connor.

I know the Winnipeg Jets are good. They’ve been near the top of the standings basically all season long. I also know Kyle Connor is good. I have read about him and watched a handful of his games. But I’ll just straight up admit that I had no idea he was this good.

I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Last season, which Connor spent most of in the American Hockey League, it was obvious he knew how to put the puck in the net. Connor finished tied for 14th in AHL goal-scoring last season with 25 goals.

Maybe that doesn’t sound that impressive to you, but remember, Connor played 20 NHL games last season, which means he missed a lot of AHL time. Connor played just 52 games in the AHL last season, which was the second-least among the league’s top 20 goal-scorers. Wade Megan lead the AHL with 33 goals in 73 games, but Connor’s 25 goals in 52 games would actually put him on pace to score 35 if he had also played in 73 games.

For this season, I was just looking at the numbers the league’s top rookies were putting up and Connor jumps right off the page.

Connor’s 41 points is tied for fifth among NHL rookies. His 22 goals are tied for second among rookies. Connor’s 17 even-strength goals are tied with DeBrincat for second among rookies, just two goals behind Boeser’s 19. Connor has played in fewer games than both of those players so far.

It’s unlikely, but if Connor can stay healthy, does he deserve to be in the Calder conversation? In most years, he likely would be. In this year’s rookie class, his accomplishments are a bit overshadowed.

Heck, Connor is overshadowed on his own team. Patrik Laine has more NHL experience, but as a teenager he’s even younger than Connor. Well, that and Laine won’t stop scoring.

The Jets score the third-most goals per game in the NHL. That I knew. The Jets have the second-best powerplay percentage in the league. That I knew.

The great season Kyle Connor is having, however? That I did not know. Nobody, not even dummies like me, should be overlooking this player.

The Jets have as many weapons as any team in the league but if teams overlook Kyle Connor, they’re going to get burned.

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