We look at our first American prospect today in Centre/Wing and Shelby Township native Kyle Connor. Connor, one of the older prospects--he'll turn 19 at the end of the year--is commited to the University of Michigan for the 2015-16, and will ultimately need to develop some more, building some size & strength. But his intangibles are elite, putthing him in the Top 10 on many lists.
|Kyle Connor||18||USA (MI)||6'1"||183||C/LW||USHL/NCAA||12|
Connor has been in a lightning bolt offensively, a step above his competition both physically and mentally. But what puts Connor ahead of some in this draft is his defensive play. Not making any Bergeron and Kopitar comparisons just yet, Connor seems to be one of the elite two-way forwards in the draft that can truly play in all three zones and in any game situation. Kyle is both slick and patient, possessing the ability to move around the ice and keep the puck on his stick fairly effortlessly. And intangibly? Coaches and scouts have hailed his effort and compete level, both on and off the ice. Kyle has some serious drive to his game.
A smart two-way forward who sets up his linemates with well-timed passes…is mature and intelligent with the puck, and does not rush a play no matter the pressure he is under…has impressive hands and vision, but it is the creativity and hockey sense that make him most dangerous…sees lanes opening and hits his targets consistently…also has a decent one-timer, but is definitely a pass-first guy… plays well away from the puck, constantly moving in order to get open…not overly physical…comes back deep into his own zone to make himself available…needs to add considerable strength, but the potential is there.- Future Considerations, Dec. 2014
While he's heralded for his two-way play, Connor is a stud play-maker. KC is a pass-first forward, who owns the rush in a way that projects him as a centre down the line more than a winger. While Kyle can and did skate on the wing often during his time in the USHL, like a Ryan Spooner he is truly at his best when he's carrying the play, controlling the puck and shifting pieces at his own pace. Connor racked up 195 points in 174 games played with the Youngstown Phantoms, mostly due to his 113 assists. While he has a great pro-level finish to his shot, he is sometimes a bit too passive, looking for the perfect play. He also will attempt to drive the net, although his strength leaves him with less ability to do so.
Meanwhile without the puck, Connor isn't a player that coaches will have to hound to get back. Claude Julien's dream, Connor wants to work on his backcheck and being better defensively. Described as "a fly after meat left on the counter during a hot day in summer," Kyle exhibits the skating, speed and effort to catch and contain defenders, and a quick stick to knock the puck away. While he isn't very strong, his growth & development should help him in these areas immensely as he progresses to the next level. A year being seasoned in the NCAA should pay dividends to his defensive skillset in the years to come.
Kyle has demonstrated the willingness and ability to make it happen. He has shown that he is the player that the team relies on for the key situations – the last minute, the power play, the comeback surge. Defense is something that Kyle has committed to bringing his game up to elite status. He is already very good at covering his man and helping his defensemen on the breakout. - Eldon MacDonald, The Hockey Writers
While size and strength may be one of his only flaws, it is a major one. He doesn't have the strongest stick, although he has a decent reach. And while his willingness to get to the dirty areas is high, his production there is lower than other spots on the ice, mostly because of his strength and balance when fighting off scrum-hungry defenders. Driving the net is a strong suit, but staying there is not. He's not close to NHL ready, but given his frame and compete-level, he should be much more effective in a few years.
Still maturing, Kyle Connor has serious potential. His flexibility in position and role, and his ability to play on all types of lines and special teams units, make him a complete player that many teams would salivate over. His maturity is slower than a lot of other skaters being taken high in the draft, which could turn off teams that may feel like they're currently in a Championship-level window. But for others that may lean towards future development, and are building a team for four years out, Connor would be a great selection.