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This article was published 23/4/2018 (813 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kyle Connor's splendid regular season was good, but not good enough, it seems.
Winnipeg's prize rookie left-winger, who spent the majority of the 2017-18 campaign on the club's No. 1 line with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler, led all NHL freshmen with 31 goals. He also finished fourth in rookie points with 57 in 76 games, which was an impressive total despite starting the season in the AHL.
Nevertheless, the 21-year-old's exploits did not impress voters sufficiently to earn recognition as a finalist for the Calder Trophy, handed out annually to the league's top rookie.
A trio of forwards — Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes (second in points with 65 and assists with 42), Vancouver's Brock Boeser (second in goals with 29 and fifth in points with 52) and heavy-betting favourite Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, who led all rookies in points (85) and assists (63), were unveiled Sunday as finalists for top rookie honours.
Was the Jet disappointed with the Calder snub?
"No. It is what it is," said Connor, who spent most of his first pro season with the AHL's Manitoba Moose. "Whether I was or I wasn’t, it’s not going to change anything."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice insisted Connor was worthy of a spot in the top three.
"Those other numbers, like the numbers in total, might have distanced him," said Maurice. "You score 30 goals as a rookie, though, you’d think you’d like to be in there.
"But they’re all good players. I don’t know, there’s always a name in there that you can argue should be in. They’re all good players. I didn’t vote on it. So you guys, whoever did, you can answer that one."
Maurice said Connor's value to the Jets transcends the numbers.
"I mean, the skating and the shot was there right from Day 1 last year," said Maurice. "He now is a player that you rarely talk to on the bench.
"He’s developed into that guy that you almost treat him like a veteran, maybe you do. He doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He plays real hard, he’s dangerous. There’s just not a lot of holes in his game."
On Monday, Maurice continued his post-season routine of offering very little information on the status of Winnipeg's injured players.
All of the ailing Jets, with the exception of blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov (back), are listed as day-to-day.
Goaltender Steve Mason, for example, has an undisclosed ailment but is skating again.
What were the chances of Mason backing up Connor Hellebuyck for Game 1 of their Western Conference second-round series with the Nashville Predators?
"I’m optimistic," Maurice said, adding he was similarly "optimistic" about forward Mathieu Perreault (upper body), who is not skating. The club did not practise Monday but returns to the ice today.
Defenceman Toby Enstrom (lower body) and left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers (illness), who returned to practice Sunday (albeit wearing non-contact jerseys) could also be ready for Game 1 against the Preds. Forward Joel Armia (upper body) left Game 4 of the Minnesota series and did not return.
Centre Adam Lowry hopes his teammates can continue to keep their cool despite the additional heat of post-season pressure. A Preds-Jets matchup should provide some fireworks.
"You play them enough, there’s going to be some heated games," Lowry said. "Over the last few years, there’s been some games where there’s certainly been some penalty minutes and the odd fight, but I think that stuff gets thrown out the window and it’s a whole new ball game. For us, it’s going to be important that we stay disciplined.
"They have a good power play and they can hurt you; I think you saw that in Game 3 (of the Minnesota series) for us, where we let the emotions get the best of us and then we were killing penalties. That’s not when we’re at our best."
Nashville's formidable depth at centre was supplemented by the mid-season acquisition of Kyle Turris and the un-retirement of Mike Fisher, adding to their faceoff excellence.
"I think they’re one of the best faceoff teams in the league," said Lowry. "They got a lot of guys who are running at 55 (per cent) and above. You look at what (Ryan) Johansen’s been able to do in the circle, (Colton) Sissons, Fisher and they've got Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino. They got a lot of depth down the middle and I think that’s the strength of our team, too.
"We have a lot of guys who can come and take faceoffs and a lot of guys who can play in the middle. We’re comfortable rolling all four of our lines and I think they are, too."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Monday, April 23, 2018 at 7:33 PM CDT: Fixes quote attribution
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