At first glance, forward Chris Conner doesn’t look like your typical hockey player. At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, the Michigan native is the smallest player in the Pittsburgh dressing room.
But once Conner laces up his skates, it’s easy to see why he has really impressed the Penguins coaching staff during training camp. Blessed with lightning speed and toughness, Conner has posted two goals in three pre-season games.
“Right from the beginning he showed speed in his first exhibition game three or four times,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The thing that’s impressed going forward from that first game is he’s also shown grit in the corners, the ability to hang onto the puck and win battles. It’s one thing to have speed and be a smaller guy in stature, but he’s been able to win battles along the boards and show that he can go in the corners and still hang onto that puck.”
“I like to bring some speed, some energy every shift I’m out there and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Conner said.
Conner spent the previous three seasons bouncing between the Dallas Stars and their American Hockey League affiliates in Iowa and Peoria. The Penguins front office saw enough potential in Conner that they brought him into camp.
Conner has made the most of that opportunity and has been awarded for his good play, seeing extended ice time on a line with Jordan Staal
and Matt Cooke
“It’s great,” Conner said of playing with Staal. “He’s a great, big kid and he’s young too. It’s really special.
“It’s just really easy to adapt here. You’ve got great guys around you. They just kind of bring you in right away and it’s really easy to adapt.”
The Penguins have 29 players remaining on their roster. With three players currently injured (Max Talbot, Mark Letestu and Ben Lovejoy
), the team has 26 active players. Pittsburgh must par its roster to 23 active players by Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. and with one final pre-season game to play, Sunday in Detroit at 5 p.m., Conner isn’t taking a position on the Penguins’ roster for granted.
“(I’m going to) just kind of keep going, working hard and using my speed, using the same thing I’ve been trying to use all camp, play my game and work hard,” Conner said. “You’ve just got to worry about what you can control and go out there and play your game and bring your best every night, and whatever happens, that’s the way it falls.”