The Kyle Connor Experience is a surprisingly complicated thing to break down. On the one hand, he’s really good at scoring goals. Like, comically good at it. There are few players I trust more in a one-on-one against a goaltender than Kyle Flippin’ Connor. Where I begin to lose that trust is Connor away from the puck or, more recently, away from a top-end centre. Winnipeg’s crafty American winger is something of a puzzle; is he really as good as his gaudy numbers suggest, or is there a catch?
Looking at Connor’s even-strength results reveal something of a tenuous relationship. As I mentioned earlier, Connor scores a lot of goals. Those goals come at a significant cost in his own end, though. Watching him try to mark opposing skaters is an exercise in futility. He’s not one to engage physically or disrupt many passing/shooting lanes. I don’t expect him to either, but he also needs to be available to assist his linemates. Far too often, Kyle’s not in a position to help his fellow skaters exit the defensive zone or win a board battle to force a turnover.
It’d be one thing if defensive struggles were the only concern, but Connor also seems to struggle to create offense away from guys like Mark Scheifele. He needs an elite-level space creator attached to his hip at all times to be successful. Most would argue every scoring winger needs this environment, and while I agree, I think the degree to which Connor needs help sets him apart. We saw him struggle to do much of anything against the Flames once Scheifele exited the game. Even when Mark was healthy, Connor had issues creating the sorts of offensive opportunities you’d expect from him.
All of this leaves me with a weird evaluation, because Kyle is very clearly good at scoring goals. He struggles at so many other aspects of the game, and it makes me question how much value he provides in net return. I’ve been hard on Connor before, if only because there’s clearly a special toolset he’s been blessed with. If he was just that much more attuned to his positioning and his linemates, he’d easily be a 100-plus point forward. As it is, he’s closer to a Phil Kessel than he is a Kucherov or Stone. That’s not exactly a bad thing, but it really limits how much value you can get with him in the lineup. The Jets will need to figure out if Connor is someone to keep for a long time, or a piece to move to bolster the roster in other flagging areas.