Connor thrilled with deal; relieved one-man training camp over


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Kyle Connor struck a solitary figure training at his old alma mater in Michigan while his Winnipeg Jets teammates endured the rigours of NHL training camp.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2019 (1278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kyle Connor struck a solitary figure training at his old alma mater in Michigan while his Winnipeg Jets teammates endured the rigours of NHL training camp.

The star forward, locked up Saturday to a seven-year, $50-million contract, had looked lonely at Yost Ice Arena on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor in several photos to emerge on social media the past few weeks.

Turns out doing unaccompanied drills much of time was, indeed, as lousy as it sounds.

“It’s tough. I was skating at the University of Michigan and (Wolverines head coach) Mel Pearson and that whole organization has been great to me. But it’s nothing that can emulate a pro camp,” Connor, 22, said Monday in his first chat with the media since signing his contract. “Seeing your teammates grind through that and playing in exhibition, it’s tough. You want to be out there, but it’s part of the business.

“As athletes and hockey players, we’re all competitive. You want to be just playing hockey. You don’t see your teammates and talk to them going through camp and you just want to be a part of it.”

Connor’s deal carries an average annual value of $7.14-million. He doesn’t reach unrestricted free agency until after the 2025-26 campaign, at the age of 29.

He said while a number of different options were presented during negotiations, accepting a long-term deal had been his preference from the start.

“We looked at all sorts of things throughout. Term, everything. I wanted to be here, I love this team and the way it’s going, and this whole organization. That’s definitely playing a big part of it,” he said. “Definitely some ups and downs. A lot of talks with my agent, Rich Evans. But I’m just happy to be done and to be here, ready to get going.”

The Jets announced the deal with Connor a day after inking Patrik Laine to a new two-year contract.

Laine was half a world away skating with a pro team in Switzerland until he reached an agreement with the Central Division squad. Connor was at home with family when Evans called to confirm a deal had been struck.

“It’s a pretty exciting time, got to share that moment with them and, after that, it was just kind of a whirlwind to get everything going and try to get everything situated — get flights, pack, and try to get here as fast as possible,” he said.

Locking up Connor prior to the start of the regular season was the final bit of business general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had to get done during a hectic off-season. The speedy winger gets a monumental pay raise from his entry-level deal, while the team has a young but proven scorer back in the fold.

“You look at the development of a Kyle Connor who had just an unbelievable college season in his first year, breaking records, doing things that a lot of other players that have gone through and eventually become stars in the National Hockey League haven’t done. So, you start to put those things on your radar,” said Cheveldayoff, as he spoke about the work to retain the Jets core of ‘draft-and-develop’ players — Connor, Laine, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck.

“Then (Connor) turns pro and needs some time in the American Hockey League, but he goes (there) and really learns how to play the game. Then, when he came up here he made an impact right away.”

Connor’s offensive instincts have never been in question. He fired 35 goals in his only season with the Wolverines — placing runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey in 2015-16 — and then scored 25 goals in just 52 games a year later for the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

He netted 31 goals during the 2017-18 NHL campaign, the most of any first-year player that year, and followed up with 34 tallies last season — primarily on the left side of the Jets top forward trio with centre Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler.

Possessing more than just blazing speed and a knack for the net, Connor has shown he doesn’t just wait around for the puck, he pursues it. He’s often the first in on the forecheck but has the wheels to get back and help out in his own end.

He said the aim this summer was on continuing to take strides in his overall game.

“A lot of weight training and skating. I just worked on getting better all around. My game, speed, strength and all of the little things that have made me successful,” said Connor. He had his physical Monday morning and skated in the afternoon with Laine and injured defenceman Sami Niku while the rest of the team had the day off.

Connor was among no fewer than 10 high-profile RFAs around the league this summer, fuelling speculation some general managers would opt for the rarely used offer sheet as a means to bolster their respective hockey team. Connor was asked if another NHL squad came calling, and his non-answer was telling.

“Um… it’s part of the business. I can’t really go into that. I can’t say anything,” he said.

With the signing of Connor and Laine, the only intrigue now is how head coach Paul Maurice draws up his forward lines. Ehlers had been the likely choice to flank Scheifele and Wheeler but that was before the critical weekend signings.

Connor said he hasn’t been told where he slots in, adding his only focus is getting back up to NHL speed prior to Thursday’s battle with the host New York Rangers, the first of a four-game, season-opening road trip.

“No idea. That’s up to Paul (Maurice). I’m ready to go, ready to play, and I feel good. Wherever he puts me, that’s where I’m going to play,” he said. “Definitely take advantage of these two practices (Tuesday and Wednesday). Like I said, I’ve been training hard all summer. You can’t really emulate a pro training camp but I feel like I did enough this summer and I’m ready to go.

“Getting back playing with these guys. Getting back up to speed and getting that physical contact that you wouldn’t see in a pre-season game. That’s what I’m looking forward to getting back.”

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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