Six weeks into his tenure with the Coyotes, defenseman Kevin Connauton is starting to emerge as a go-to-guy offensively as Arizona pushes to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Coyotes claimed Connauton, 26, off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 13, and in the past seven games he has produced six points (three goals and three assists).
“You only get so many chances in this League so I’m excited to be here and to get a chance with these guys,” Connauton said recently. “I’ve just got to make the most out of what they give me.”
Connauton began the season playing for Columbus but was deemed expendable when the Blue Jackets acquired defenseman Seth Jones from Nashville early last month. The Coyotes quickly snatched him off the waiver wire and he’s now part of an eight-man defensive corps.
Playing for his third head coach this season – the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards and replaced him with John Tortorella in October – Connauton admits it has been a challenging season.
“You’ve just got to stay on your toes and watch the video and make sure you are a student of the game,” Connauton said. “I feel that I’m an NHL defenseman and I believe in myself, so I’ve got to make sure I prove it here.”
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett has liked what Connauton has shown in his first 16 games, especially the one played Feb. 20 against St. Louis in which he logged a career-high 31:11, took six shots on goal and produced a goal and two assists as the Coyotes played most of the game without injured star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“He’s played well,” Tippett said. “We need a guy that can move the puck a little bit and get up with the play. He’s capitalizing on some chances. It’s good to see. He plays hard (and) he tries hard. He and Mike Stone have been a pretty good pair for us.”
Connauton came to the Coyotes with 125 games on his NHL resume having been part of three organizations before Arizona: Vancouver, which drafted him 83rd overall in 2009, Dallas and Columbus. His best offensive season in the NHL was last season when he set career-highs for goals (nine), assists (10) and points (19) while playing in a career-high 54 games.
As a defenseman in the American Hockey League, he totaled 88 points (33 goals, 55 assists) over four seasons before breaking into the NHL with Dallas in 2013-14. Playing for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, he was invited to the 2012 AHL All-Star Game and won the hardest shot contest there with a blast that measured 99.4 miles per hour. He also scored the game-tying goal for the Western Conference, which eventually won the game 8-7.
Connauton relishes those experiences and has carried lessons learned from all of his stops along the way to the Coyotes with him.
As he said after his first practice with Arizona:
“It strengthens you mentally to get bounced around a little bit. Everyone kind of takes different journeys in the League. Some guys get the jersey on their draft day and never look back. Other guys have got to carve your way through. I’ve met some great people and learned a lot of lessons, and this is just another chapter in it.”