October 26, 2020

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Connor a proven goal scorer, but....

Rest of his game might be 'empty calories'

Karl B DeBlaker / The Associated Press files</p><p>There are limitation in Jets forward Kyle Connor’s defensive game but he’s a force in the offensive zone.</p>

Karl B DeBlaker / The Associated Press files

There are limitation in Jets forward Kyle Connor’s defensive game but he’s a force in the offensive zone.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/2/2020 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

It’s fairly common knowledge at this point in analytics circles that Patrik Laine is known as a player who doesn’t have great underlying numbers despite his offensive prowess. He gets a lot of criticism when the production isn’t there because of that.

The amount of attention Laine soaks up acts as a bit of a shield for other forwards on the Winnipeg Jets who have similar profiles — and for whatever reason there are a few of them. Centre Mark Scheifele, for example, hasn’t been a possession driver for a few years now, getting by on offensive talent and control of passes to the slot.

The third member of that top line though, doesn’t really get talked about that much outside of what he does well.

Kyle Connor is an excellent net-front player — a top-line offensive producer who has blossomed into a sure fire 30-goal scorer. Certain analytics, however, don’t shine on him too kindly.

Throughout Connor’s four-season NHL career, he hasn’t had a season where he’s been above team average in on-ice shot or shot attempt differential, though he was strong by the shot quality metrics two seasons ago when the Jets were at their peak.

The last two seasons though, Connor has been close to team average in the bigger volume metrics that are more publicly available, but the quality plays that produce goals are falling off. Part of that is due to playing with other forwards who also have trouble controlling the flow of play. But is Connor really empty calories, as they say?

It’s great to be able to score goals but if you’re causing as many to go in your own net because your play is lacking in other areas, it isn’t worth too much.

Generally, I don’t worry much about defensive play from wingers, since their impact on highest-quality plays is generally limited. A strong defensive centre can insulate a winger who doesn’t contribute much without the puck, as can a strong defence pairing.

It’s easy to see on-ice numbers as the be all, end all with a player, but there’s far more to consider on an individual level. There are measures that show Connor has tons of value offensively. He’s not just a passenger or complementary player who exists just to finish off elite plays by his linemates — he creates a ton of offence on his own.

Those offensive contributions are one part of the equation to the on-ice numbers. So where exactly is Connor lacking that the Jets are so badly outplayed while he’s on the ice compared to when he’s on the bench?

Part of the problem is Connor’s involvement in play when he doesn’t have the puck. He’s generally a passive player who doesn’t engage with opponents to remove possession that often. Through bodychecks, stick checks, pass blocks or shot blocks, Connor helps create a possession change just 5.21 times every 20 minutes, which ranks him 241st among 295 forwards to play 500 or more minutes this season.

In the defensive zone his engagement is even lower, with just 1.67 every 20 minutes and ranking 286th out of 295 forwards.

Things don’t get much better for Connor in dealing with loose pucks, where he recovers 15.3 every 20 minutes, ranking 249th in the NHL, and 255th in loose puck recoveries in the defensive zone with just 5.3 per 20 minutes.

Connor is particularly vulnerable off the cycle, where he can get caught running around. He also struggles with the puck in the defensive zone — he has one of the highest turnover rates in the NHL, with 16.8 per cent of his plays ending up on the stick of an opposing player; ranking 273rd of 295 forwards.

Those are all glaring issues for Connor, but the news isn’t all bad. He’s a big liability defensively, but once he has the puck outside the defensive zone, he’s actually pretty excellent at moving the puck up the ice.

Connor’s 19.2 successful transition plays every 20 minutes at 5-vs-5 rank him 40th-best in the NHL, as he ranks highly in controlled exits, received defensive-zone exit passes and controlled entries. Those are all elements that he has greatly improved on this season, which has led to a drastic increase in Connor’s scoring chances off the rush.

There are limitations in Connor’s game on the defensive side, but I don’t believe they’re anything that couldn’t be accounted for with a strong defensive or possession driving centre. He has the skill and willingness to move the puck up the ice with control and score goals. Those are strong tools to work with, even if the Jets haven’t found the perfect line for him yet.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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History

Updated on Friday, February 14, 2020 at 10:08 PM CST: Updates images

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