WINNIPEG - Kyle Connor couldn't be more ecstatic to be back in Winnipeg. It was a long summer of training and solo skates at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, while the details of his contract got sorted out over the summer.
But on Saturday, Sept. 28, he got the call he had been waiting for.
"I was back home with family over the weekend. I got the call from my agent and it was a pretty exciting time. I got to share that moment with them," Connor said. "After that, it was a whirlwind trying to get everything going and trying to get everything situated, get flights, and get here as fast as possible."
The 22-year-old arrived in Winnipeg on Sunday, just a day after his new seven-year contract (with an average annual value of $7.14 million) was finalized.
He said watching from a far during training camp wasn't easy on him.
"Seeing your teammates grind through that and playing exhibition, it's tough and you want to be out there, but it's part of the business," said Connor. "As athletes and hockey players, we're all competitive. We want to be there and just be playing hockey."
Video: MEDIA AVAILABILITY | Kyle Connor
Now he'll get to be with his teammates as the squad has two practice days ahead of the regular season opener on Thursday in New York against the Rangers.
Connor's contract completed a busy weekend for Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who also got Patrik Laine's name in ink on a two-year contract one day prior to finishing Connor's deal.
While every negotiation is different and various term lengths are often discussed, Cheveldayoff said the longer-term deal with Connor is what made the most sense at this time.
"When you're dealing with a hard cap situation, certainly with us, with multiple players to be signed you needed to have a game plan, or flexibility, or talks in your mind as to what ultimately the sweet spot would be," said Cheveldayoff. "We talked multiple different terms but, in the end, - and for the most part of the negotiations - it was always focused on a long-term deal."
Connor is coming off his second consecutive 30-goal season, finishing with a career-high 34 in 2018-19.
Those back-to-back seasons with 30 goals certainly jump off the page, but Cheveldayoff feels the 52 games the 2015 first-round pick played with the Manitoba Moose in 2016-17 (and the additional four to start the following season) were crucial to Connor's development.
Even if the decision was difficult to make, especially following Connor's one and only season with the Michigan Wolverines - where he finished as a Hobey Baker Award finalist as the NCAA's top college player.
"He had just an unbelievable college season in his first year. Breaking records, doing things that a lot of other players that have gone through and eventually become stars in the National Hockey League haven't done," Cheveldayoff said. "He goes to the American Hockey League and really learns how to play the game. Then when he came up here, he made an impact right away. That's when you start to project a couple years down the road."
There wasn't a specific aspect to his game that Connor focused on this off-season. There were weights, skating sessions, and everything that the speedy winger usually does to build on his speed and strength to make him the dynamic player he is every night.
After he goes through the mandatory physicals and other behind-the-scenes aspects that are usually covered on the first day of training camp, he has no doubt he'll be ready for opening night.
"I've been training hard all summer. You can't emulate a pro training camp but I feel like I did enough this summer and I'm ready to go," Connor said, adding he doesn't know who his line mates will be, but is happy to leave that is Paul Maurice's hands.
He's just happy to be back in the fold.
"It's extremely exciting," Connor said. "I want to thank Mark Chipman, Chevy, and this whole organization for that commitment and belief in me as a player and a person. I couldn't be more excited to join this team."
Even if that means dealing with the fact his fellow forward, Mathieu Perreault, trimmed his hair during camp.
"I was a little disappointed he cut it," Connor laughed. "He had some pretty good locks going there. I like the 'stache too that he's got going."