Talented Connor is one cool customer

Highly skilled forward is a reserved, matter-of-fact young man who takes things in stride

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Plenty has happened to Kyle Connor in the last year or so.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/07/2016 (2337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Plenty has happened to Kyle Connor in the last year or so.

The Winnipeg Jets made him a first-round draft choice, 17th overall, in June 2015. The 19-year-old from Shelby Township in western Michigan then enrolled at the University of Michigan, where nearly everything he touched on the ice turned to gold, or points.

At the end of the season he was NCAA hockey’s top scorer — to the tune of 35 goals and 71 points in just 38 games — and for a large number of pundits he was the Hobey Baker winner until some interesting college hockey politics got in the way.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor carries the puck during a drill at development camp at the MTS Iceplex Sunday. Connor burned up the NCAA with the University of Michigan last season.

He signed a contract with the Jets in April after deciding to come out of school after just one year, and shortly after that, Team USA was taking him to the world championship in Russia.

Apart from refining some of his playmaking and scoring wizardry, Connor hasn’t changed much. Apart from all his promise and his ability, he’s still that reserved, matter-of-fact kind of youngster who would just rather not get too worked up about most things.

“I try not to focus on that,” he said, asked about an eventful year since he was last at the MTS Iceplex for the 2015 Jets development camp. “Maybe a little bit after the season, I like to take a week or two and reflect on how it was and how I did and what I can improve on, but after that, it’s about moving forward and you have to look at it that way.”

Translation: it sounds like Connor was happy with his remarkable season at Michigan for maybe a week and then he turned full focus on the next job at hand.

He said there was a strong temptation to stay at school.

“It was tough to leave,” he said. “It’s a great program there. Red Berenson, he does a great job with all the players. It definitely wasn’t an easy decision.”

When he joined Team USA in Russia, he didn’t see a lot of ice time, partly because he ran into an injury bug a couple of games in.

But it was still a valuable experience.

“The games I did play, you adjust to the speed and with the wider ice, you have a little more time, but it was a good experience playing against some stronger guys,” Connor said. “Just off the ice and around the rink, you learn what it takes and what you have to put into your body.

“You’ve got to learn that on your, own but you can take a couple things from the pros and that’s what I learned the most about.”

Back to Winnipeg now, and with training camp about 10 weeks away, his new situation as a professional brings him again to new thresholds.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Jamie Phillips hit the ice as an official Jet Sunday.

He said Sunday, after one skate in this year’s camp, “being under the radar,” because of all the Patrik Laine hype hadn’t even occurred to him.

“I try not to think about that, just focus on my game and what I can control,” he said.

“I see a lot of familiar faces around here and some of the new guys, too, it’s good to get to know them. I haven’t been on the ice too much, but it was a good skate today and got a workout in earlier this morning, so a good day for sure.

“I think at one of these kinds of camps, you just have to go out there and try to have some fun. On the ice, you just stick to what you do well.”

Even a question about the most important thing ahead, which is translating his effective game to the pro level, got an analytical answer.

“Getting stronger, bigger, faster,” he said of his summer focus. “That comes with working out.”

AFTERBURNERS: After the Jets signed 2012 seventh-round pick Jamie Phillips Saturday, the goalie was quickly added to the development camp roster and was on the ice Sunday. Phillips has completed his four years at Michigan Tech.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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