Conor Timmins has come a long way in his journey to play professional hockey.
The defenseman has spent the past year and a half recovering from a head injury that he sustained during the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Playoffs, and he has battled through adversity to earn a spot on the Colorado Avalanche's opening night roster for the 2019-20 season.
"Obviously I was pretty excited," Timmins said of when he learned he was on the Avs' 23-man active roster. "I dreamed of this my whole life, so I am definitely really excited to be here and hopefully help this team win a championship."
Video: Conor Timmins on being with the Avalanche
The rear guard last played a competitive game on May 11, 2018 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League Finals against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Timmins spent the following summer and the 2018-19 season recovering from the injury before he took meaningful steps this offseason to help him prepare for the upcoming campaign.
He participated in Colorado's development camp in late June and was also able to play in the 3-on-3 prospect scrimmage that concluded the on-ice portion of the camp. After a few more months of training, he joined the Avalanche rookies and skated against his peers from other organizations at the Anaheim Rookie Faceoff in early September.
Finally, he competed in three exhibition contests during this preseason and proved to club management and coaches with his play that he deserves to start the year with the NHL squad.
"To be honest, he's earned it. He had a tremendous preseason. Going into the summer, I would be lying if we didn't say that he was going to start in the AHL," said Avs executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic. "The preseason that he had, he's [on the] opening day roster and he's going to play a lot of minutes, and we'll see where it goes.
"I give him a lot of credit. A year and a half without playing and what he did in the summer to get healthy and get to this next level and work real hard. You can just see it when he has the puck, his hockey sense, his IQ, he's done everything to earn his spot in the lineup."
Timmins played in both of the Avs preseason contests against the Vegas Golden Knights, and he scored in Colorado's exhibition game at the Minnesota Wild on Sept. 21. The St. Catharines, Ontario, native finished the preseason with one goal and 10 shots on net.
Video: COL@MIN: Timmins wires home wrister from the slot
"It was a really good feeling. Obviously you kind of worry about how you will be when you come back, whether you will have the same kind of game," Timmins said to ColoradoAvalanche.com of his preseason play. "It was nice for me to figure out that I still have that jump and still have my game, so I am happy with how things went.
"I think it just took some time. I think obviously as the games went on I felt more and more comfortable, once you get kind of in to the second or third game you feel really comfortable in yourself and you don't really think about anything other than hockey and you just make plays."
Colorado selected the defenseman with the first pick in the second round (No. 32) of the 2017 NHL Draft and signed him to his entry-level contract on March 2, 2018.
"He's overcome a lot, and we're proud of him. He's dealt with a lot, a lot of frustration to not get over the hump," Sakic said of Timmins' road to recovery. "At the end of last year, we weren't going to risk him play in February. We just wanted him to take the whole year, start fresh, have a good summer of training to keep getting stronger. He did everything that he could, and we're pretty proud of him because he's earned everything that he's got."
Given all that he has been through, being with the Avalanche as the 2019-20 season opens is quite the accomplishment for Timmins, but it is just the beginning.
"I think that was kind of step one for me. Obviously I still have goals I would like to achieve throughout the season," said Timmins. "It is one thing to make this team and it's another thing to stick with the team. I just want to be an impact player every night and help this team as much as I can."
His first opportunity to make a case for himself to stay with the Avs will be on Thursday against the Calgary Flames in the season opener at Pepsi Center.