Kyle Connor has been one of the most polarizing Winnipeg Jets skaters in recent memory. Some believe the elite goalscorer is underrated outside of Winnipeg. Others see a variety of noteworthy deficiencies in Kyle’s game, especially in regards to defensive awareness. If Connor’s name wasn’t a household mention before this season, it surely is now among the broader hockey world. Kyle ripped the league apart, shredding goalies to the tune of 47 goals and 46 assists. More intriguingly, there was genuine growth evident in the way Connor scanned the offensive zone and became a bigger part of build-up play. Did anything else improve in KFC’s game?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Connor’s overall on-ice contributions took a considerable step forward. While the defensive zone work still remains a considerable issue, the even-strength offensive output jumped to a level we’ve not seen with the talented American. Put simply, Kyle became a nearly break-even xGF%. Considering how poorly Kyle has typically graded by defensive metrics and his more clinical scoring approach, this is a tremendous jump. Connor’s CF% was also nearly break-even, clocking in around 49%. If your top sniper is giving you this much 5v5 offense to compensate for poor defensive impacts, you’ll take that all day.
Aside from Connor’s individual growth, it’s entirely possible the rest of his improvements came due to Pierre-Luc Dubois and Evgeny Svechnikov. Both linemates provided a significant two-way impact to Kyle’s game over Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. The chemistry the 81-80-71 line showed throughout the season was impressive, with each part complementing the other in harmony. It was Winnipeg’s top line of the season and, for no particular reason, was frequently split apart by the coaching staff. If the Jets know how to do one thing, it’s breaking what’s been fixed.
All in all, KFC had a remarkable Jets season. He became the first Winnipeg player to hit a 40/40 season in goals and assists, and nearly nabbed his first 50-goal season. If Connor can keep this performance up over the next few seasons, the Jets will be seeing Stanley in their dreams. If nothing else, we’re going to be treated to some beautiful finishes for years to come.