It Might Be Time for Kyle Connor to Wear Antlers

Updated: October 26, 2016 at 8:00 am by Dustin Mymko

With 14 shifts and 10:09 in ice time at the Heritage Classic (both low marks thus far in the young season) and now being a healthy scratch in favour of Chris Thorburn, Kyle Connor has seen his opportunity to contribute to the Winnipeg Jets decrease as the first five games has progressed. There have been some flashes of brilliance that remind us of what we saw when he ripped up the NCAA, but there have also been some glaring hiccups in his play (especially defensively) and it may be time for him to spend some time in the AHL. When we consider that the Jets have not yet recalled anyone to play in Bryan Little’s spot since his injury, perhaps the time has come to call up Andrew Copp and Marko Dano. 

Kyle Connor left no doubt last year that there was little left for him to prove in the NCAA. With 35 goals and 71 points in only 38 games, he should have won the Hobey Baker Awards as the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player (somehow they awarded it to Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey) and Connor showed he was ready for professional hockey. When the Jets jumped up to second in the NHL Draft and selected Patrik Laine, some of the spotlight shifted off of Connor and it was thought that he would perhaps start the season in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. But a strong training camp and preseason (with goals in three straight games, including two game winners) impressed management enough to start the season with the big club. Through 5 regular season games, however, he has only recorded one assist and has seen his ice-time drop. It was Connor’s cough-up on the power play that led to the Oilers second goal in the Heritage Classic, and the Oilers never looked back.

With the Jets at 2-3 and heading in to a tough week that features 4 games (three of which are against division opponents), it might be time to turn to some guys with NHL experience who might be able to help the Jets get some wins. Andrew Copp and Marko Dano fit that bill.

Andrew Copp is another former ex-NCAA player, but the major difference here is that Copp played 77 games in the NHL last season (bringing his career total to 78). Copp notched 7 goals and 6 assists playing an average of 8:00 of ice time and he won 46.1% of his faceoffs. The faceoff percentage isn’t great, but that would represent an improvement for the Jets, as they’re winning only 45.2% thus far.  Even Copp’s 47.6 CF% is a major improvement over Connor’s 38.5% that we’ve seen early in this season. Down in the ‘A’ this season, Copp has contributed 4 assists in 6 games. Last season with the Jets we heard much from Coach Maurice about Copp’s defensive responsibility and hockey IQ and, at this point, it would be a welcome addition.

Another of the ‘last cuts’ after training camp for the Jets was Marko Dano. Dano was an integral part of the trade that sent pending unrestricted free agent Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks and he came in and played the final 21 games for the Jets last season. In those games, Dano contributed 4 goals and 4 assists and had a 53.2 CF%. In 2014-15, Dano had 21 points (8 goals and 13 assists) for the Columbus Blue Jackets. In his 6 games with the Moose, Dano has 2 assists. 

Now, by no means am I trying to say Kyle Connor is a bust, nor am I trying to say he won’t contribute to this team this season. Kyle Connor is 20 years old and is undeniably talented. But the schedule is going to get a little rough for the Jets very quickly here (with 17 games in 29 days) and bringing in some guys with NHL experience who can help defensively and chip in offensively would provide a little stability. Since Bryan Little went down early in the first game of the season the Jets have not made a call-up to fill his roster spot. Now that questions are coming up about Connor’s big-league readiness, the time may have come to give Copp and Dano another look on the big stage.