– Kyle Connor didn’t know what to think.
His fate uncertain no more than 20 minutes earlier, it seemed impossible that the anxiousness and pre-draft jitters would give way to ease and a smile in the blink of an eye.
But they did.
Welcome to Winnipeg, Kyle.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said, eyes wide in a state of disbelief after a 17th overall selection. “To share this with my family and friends — the people that have supported me my whole career and gave me so much support — it’s exciting. Family, friends, best friends, grandparents…I had quite a bit of family here tonight. It’s a little nerve-racking [waiting for your name to be called], but it’s
out of your control.
You’ve got to try and have some fun with it and soak it all in.”
What transpired tonight at BB&T Center was special; even life changing. Joining the ranks of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nik Ehlers and Jack Roslovic as one of the franchise’s
first round picks, he’s now officially a part of the family.
“It’s a relief,” Connor said. “I’m ready to take the next step in my hockey career.”
In his third season with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League, Connor set a single-season franchise record with 80 points (34G, 46A) in only 56 games, winning the league’s Player and Forward of the Year honours after leading all skaters in offensive production. The 6-foot-1, 177-pound winger has committed to the University of Michigan next season and is excited
about the opportunity to prove himself in a more difficult league.
“It’s been extremely important to my development,” Connor said, looking back at his time in Youngstown. “Every night in the USHL, any team can win. It’s such a competitive league nowadays and it really helped me grow, both as a person and as a player.”
Connor said he had “three or four” meetings with the Jets this season, each offering a unique look into what the organization (and city) is all about.
“I know it’s cold out there,” he began with a laugh, “but I know they have passionate fans and it’s a crazy hockey market. … It’s a great team. They really showed well in the playoffs and they’re a
team on the rise.”
Making Connor the perfect fit.
“I like to play with a lot of speed. Speed and skill,” he said. “I’m quick and play at a fast pace, but also have the ability to slow the game down as well.”
“When you’re walking in with picks in the mid-to-late first round, you really don’t know how things are going to fall,” General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “For us picking at 17, we’re very excited to get Kyle. We think he has tremendous skill and really good upside. We think he’s a Top 6 forward. You look at his stats and what he’s been able to accomplish in the USHL and we really believe
that we’ve added a skilled player.”
Cheveldayoff did try and move up in the draft order, but when it came down to it, he was more than satisfied with the quality of the players available.
“We swung for the fence a little bit, but I think a lot of teams did. It’s all part of the intrigue and fun of the draft.
“Sometimes these guys do fall into your lap and you’re the benefactors of it.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com