Kevin Connauton was admittedly frustrated by a lack of playing time in Dallas, but that emotion turned to shock when he received word that he would be changing teams.
The Stars placed Connauton, 24, on waivers last Tuesday to send him to their AHL affiliate in Cedar Park, Tex., where he would get regular playing time and be able to build a case for recall to the big club. After speaking with his agent, Connauton knew there was a possibility that another NHL team could claim him, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up in case something didn’t happen.
His car was packed and ready to make the nearly-three-hour drive from Dallas to suburban Austin. Then, his phone rang a little after 11 a.m. CT with big news on the other end -- and everything changed.
“I was mentally prepared to go to Austin,” Connauton said. “My agent talked to me (Monday) and we were both hopeful something would happen, but you don’t want to get too high on that because if it didn’t, I would’ve been pretty disappointed. I wanted to go down there, go to work and get to climbing back up…and when I got the call, it was a bit of a relief and also a huge shock.
“I don’t really know how else to explain it. It all happened fast. Now I’m here and I’m excited about what lies ahead.”
Connauton was a third-round pick of the Canucks in 2009, and was traded to Dallas in a deal that sent veteran center Derek Roy to Vancouver. He’s spent extensive time in the AHL with stints in Texas and Chicago and 73 games with the Manitoba Moose in 2010-11, biding his time for a real chance at the NHL level.
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The Blue Jackets, ravaged by injuries on defense and looking for solutions up and down their lineup, are prepared to give Connauton an opportunity.
He’s played two games with Columbus (Friday vs. Boston and also Saturday in Philadelphia) averaging about 17 minutes per night, mostly paired with veteran defenseman James Wisniewski.
It would seem that Connauton, known for his swift skating and puck-moving ability, may fit in well with the Blue Jackets and not solely during this wave of injuries. Now in his fifth year of professional hockey, Connauton said he’s figuring out what it takes to stick at the highest level and now it’s a matter of refining skills and staying on top of his game.
“I know what type of game I can play,” Connuaton said. “I like to get back to pucks first, move them quick. I’ve always had the mentality that you don’t have to play defense when you have the puck. Defending has been a big focus of mine in my fifth year pro now; it’s something I still need to improve on but something that’s come a long way and I’m a lot more comfortable out there and I think I’m a lot more reliable.
“I’m not as offensive-minded as I was in junior and college, where I was sniffing down to the goal line and (playing) a lot more high-risk. You start to learn that you can’t really play that way or you’ll going to get pulled out quite often.”
There are no grudges or hard feelings harbored against the Stars, either; Connauton said he thoroughly enjoyed his time there, made good friends but was anxious to get another chance if it so happened to come along.
“They said ‘you’re on the outside looking in a little bit’ and that’s nothing that I hold against them,” Connauton said. “It’s their team and their decision, and they have to decide what’s best. I can’t control those kinds of things. I’m going to go on the ice and work hard (here), and when the opportunity comes, make the most of it.”