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Conner set for Wings' debut

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
BUFFALO, N.Y.Chris Conner, the leading scorer for Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League, will make his Red Wings’ debut tonight against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Whether he’s an offensive force right away only time will tell, but the Livonia, Mich., native is thrilled to be returning to the NHL.

“I want to come in and use my speed, I think that’s a big part of it and create some energy and do whatever I can to help them win and be successful,” said Conner, who collected 16 points in 60 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

The 27-year-old Conner signed a one-year contract with the Wings last summer and had hopes of cracking a forward lineup loaded with depth. And though he had an outstanding training camp and exhibition season, he was among the last few wingers send down to Grand Rapid, where he’s been a very steady contributor, scoring seven goals with 16 assists in 20 games.

Conner’s season debut was necessary when Fabian Brunnstrom was given a few days off after his wife, Sandy, gave birth of his first child, Alexander Noah, on Thursday.

At 5-foot-8, Conner is the Wings’ shortest player, but it’s his exceptional speed that should be an asset, skating on the Wings’ third line with center Darren Helm and opposite Danny Cleary. But coach Mike Babcock also sees Conner using that speed on the Wings’ penalty-kill.

“I thought he played real well in the exhibition season,” Babcock said. “We wanted to look at (Fabian) Brunnstrom and (Cory) Emmerton, we since have decided that he can help our penalty-kill and can help our tenacity and help our work ethic and speed.

“He’s not a big man at all, but he plays big, he’s hard on pucks. I think he’ll be a help for us and with Cleary and Helm on a line with him, I think that’s a real good opportunity for him to play well.”

Helm also likes the idea of having Conner’s speed on the right wing against the Sabres’ sky-scrapper sized defensemen.

“With me and Cleary and Conner, I think it'll be a line that'll be good on the forecheck, be dangerous in their zone,” said Helm, who has a goal and an assist in the last two games. “He's quick and he's really good with the puck. We're looking for him to be noticeable out there, creative with the puck, skating, doing things for our line.”

And expect Conner to be particularly aggressive on the forecheck.

“That’s my game,” he said. “I want to get in there and be strong in the puck, especially since I’m a smaller guy in the league. I want to keep proving every night that I can get in there and control the puck and win those puck battles and get some offense going.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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