Up & Comer
To understand the type of player Kevin Connauton is, consider his role in the Chicago Wolves second goal in a recent 4-2 win over the Rockford IceHogs.
Connauton started with the puck at centre ice and burst into the offensive zone untouched before dropping it back to Mark Mancari. Mancari’s quick shot was stopped by Carton Hutton but Anton Rodin popped home the rebound.
Kevin’s role in the goal was remarkably similar to what Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis and Coach Alain Vigneault envision for the blueliners on the big squad: fleet of foot, quick on the transition, and an important component of the offence.
Oh, and the goal came in the first game back from the AHL All-Star Weekend, where Connauton won the hardest shot competition with a blistering 99.4 MPH, and dominated the game itself where he scored the goal that sent the game to overtime and an eventual shootout win.
The 21 year old 83rd pick of the 2009 draft has always been an offensive dynamo, a franchise record 72 points in his only year with the Vancouver Giants and 23 points in his rookie year in the AHL, but the knock has been always been his defensive game.
He’s not unlike a cross between Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff, a 6-2 200 lb scoring defenceman who is prone to getting lost in his own zone.
This year however Connauton has shown signs of taking his game to the next level under the watchful eye of Craig MacTavish, an AHL coach with a luxury of NHL experience.
Connauton has essentially matched his points total of last year in under 50 games while blossoming under increased defensive duties.
Though he is -4 on the year, MacTavish has explained it away as being the victim of circumstances and who are we to argue with him?
None of MacTavish’s tricks would be useful if Connauton himself didn’t possess the drive for self-improvement necessary to utilize them, and growing up with brother, Sean, who played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and for Brown University has instilled that competitive drive since childhood.
Kevin even has a matched tattoo with Sean that reads “Brothers Forever”.
Here’s a taste of what MacTavish thought of Connauton when he first met him at training camp.
“You have a kid with that raw skill set, a highly intelligent and determined kid, I’d bet that. Ideally, he’s going to want to go in and compete for a job in Vancouver and that’s the next step for him. He’s right there at the end of the decision making for the Canucks coaches and managers and I think that’s the natural progression.”
In fact, MactTavish is basically doing the same thing for Connauton’s defensive game as he is for Chris Tanev‘s offensive game, making both into more well-rounded defenders and professional major league hockey players as the top pairing on the team.
It means that Canuck fans should expect both to graduate to full-time duty within a couple of years, organizational depth that will help alleviate the impending retirement of Sami Salo and give the Canucks a chance to take advantage of home-grown talent on entry-level contracts they same way they do up front with Jannik Hansen and Cody Hodgson.