The NHL has seemingly warmed up to the college ranks in the past few years. Always seen as the fourth option behind the three CHL leagues, the NCAA has started churning out player after player, making it a valuable source for draftees. The emergence of NHL superstars like Jonathan Toews, Johnny Gaudreau, TJ Oshie, Joe Pavelski, et al. and the presence of future superstars like Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin further shows the legitimacy of the NCAA as a talent pool.
The college route is attractive for a number of reasons. You can get free development time in a tougher league with the option of bringing a player up and signing him whenever you want without the penalty of not being able to reassign them to the AHL. They see rowdier fanbases and more intense media coverage, just a step below the NHL.
The NCAA has rewarded the Flames quite handsomely. In addition to Johnny Hockey, Josh Jooris and Drew Shore have shown that they have promising futures. In the system, we have Jon Gillies, Kenney Morrison, Brandon Hickey, and John Gilmour ready and waiting to make noise in the NHL.
It's a system that has rewarded the Flames, so why not go again? Left winger Kyle Connor is moving on to the Michigan Wolverines next season, and has a good case to be the #15 overall pick.
|Birthdate||December 9th, 1996|
|NHL Central Scouting Ranking||13 NA (midterm: 14)|
|NHLe (Draft -1)||29|
Connor is known as a record setter in the USHL. He broke the single-season Youngstown record for scoring this year with 80 points, surpassing the former record holder, who is also Kyle Connor in 2013-14. His knack for racking up points comes from his intelligence and vision, his main selling point for scouts. He does have high goal totals, but he is a pass-first guy, with great puck distribution skills.
His puck skills are the envy of many of his peers. While he certainly isn't a flashy player, he doesn't seem to ever lose the puck. His stickhandling, especially in tight areas, is incredibly impressive. Connor's creativity in traffic is akin to Gaudreau's, finding the supposedly random lanes that no one else can see.
The most promising thing about Connor is his desire and ability to grow. While his 2013-14 season was very good, he struggled at a 200 foot game, often looking clueless defensively. Through offseason work he became a better defensive player. To quantify, he went from a -15 in 13/14 to a +3 in 14/15 while only scoring six more points. Plus/minus isn't always the most reliable stat, but in this context it shows how he improved as a defender without doing anything dramatically different on offence. The one to four years he'll spend in college will only help him take his game even further.
That being said, Connor still isn't a sure thing defensively. He is still prone to the same defensive mental lapses that he suffered the season before. He has a few years to work it out, but any team will be cautious about where his ceiling really is. The benefit of the college system is that they will do the work for a project player, but if the player isn't going to get any better, then it backfires on you.
His value certainly isn't as a centre, as the Flames are already loaded at that position. If he is drafted by the team, he will most likely be on the left wing. While the Flames are definitely lacking some prospect depth on the left side, it isn't as horrendous as the right. Gaudreau, Ferland, and Bouma will be around with the team a little longer, and Morgan Klimchuk, Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and David Wolf are all pining for positions.
Since Connor will go to Michigan, this buys the Flames some time to figure out their roster, but this is all contingent on what view the team wants to follow. Do they win now, or win later? If the answer is now, then they won't pick him. If the answer is later, they will, but that seems backwards considering the current state of the team. The Flames want to build off of this season, not tuck it away. At #15, there are prospects who could make an immediate impact. Why not draft them and continue the success rather than stunt your own growth?
Why draft him?
- Consistent, high producing player
- Very smart and creative on offence
- Technical skills are top class
- Shows the drive to grow into a better player
Why not draft him?
- Defensive issues still persist
- Project player in a draft full of NHL-ready players
There's a lot to like about Kyle Connor. He doesn't have as many flaws as the other prospects we've profiled, but the fact is that this pick is more of an investment in his potential rather than a pick for immediate value. If the Flames pick Connor, they're going to have to wait because he isn't NHL-ready yet. To make the playoffs next year, the Flames are going to have to address immediate issues, and there's plenty of players in the draft that can help instead of Connor.