Name: Kyle Connor
2014-2015 team: Youngstown Phantoms(USHL)
2014-2015 stats: 56 games, 34 goals, 46 assists, 80 points
Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 13th among North American skaters
What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Kyle Connor is one of the most explosive offensive talents available in this year's Draft. He's got tremendous acceleration which allows him to create separation in tight spaces and has high-end straight line speed which makes him difficult to defend in one-on-one rushes. Perhaps more importantly, Connor has the skill and scoring ability to do something with the offensive opportunities he creates with his speed. He has a very quick, dangerous release on his shot and his vision and playmaking ability is above average.
The biggest downside with Connor is that there are occasional concerns about his consistency and effort, especially on the defensive end of the ice. His offensive gifts are special, but he'll need to become a more complete, well-rounded at the pro level. He'll also need some time to develop a little more strength to handle the physicality of the pro level.
Is he trending up or down heading into the Draft?
Connor has always been a very good player, but he really put himself on the map in April of 2014 when he played for Team USA at the World U18 Championships. Connor played on Team USA's second line with projected 2016 #1 pick Auston Matthews and the two were incredible, even looking better than Team USA's top line which feature two 2014 first round picks in Alex Tuch and Sonny Milano, and wunderkind Jack Eichel.
That performance put Connor solidly as a potential first round draft pick to start the season and gave him a very difficult task this season. It was going to be very difficult for Connor to show growth in his game in a league known for its' tough defense to help him keep that lofty ranking. But Connor was up to the challenge. He scored 80 points, improving on his total of 74 from the previous season, and leading the league in scoring by nine points. That performance kept Connor ranked in the mid-first round of the Draft all year long when it would have been very easy for him to move down.
Where is he projected to go in the Draft?
It's tough to see Connor sneaking into the top ten of the Draft. He may be a top ten talent, but playing in the USHL, there are just haven't been many other first-time draft eligible forwards that have dominated that league like Connor has. With so few points of reference, it adds some guesswork as to just how good Connor is. His numbers are hard to ignore though. Expect him to be selected somewhere between 10th and 20th overall in the Draft, with it being much more likely he goes on the higher end of that range.
How does he project as a pro?
Connor is ranked as high as he is because his ceiling is very high. He has the elite offensive skills to be a first line wing at the NHL level. Even if he doesn't reach that potential, he'll be a player that relies on his scoring to help him keep a spot in the line-up more than the other aspects of his game.
Where will he go next?
Connor will be a freshman at the University of Michigan next season. He may face some pressure to sign an NHL contract this summer or move to the OHL, but Connor has stood extremely firm in his commitment to Michigan in the past, so it would be a major surprise if something swayed him at this late stage. Connor's explosive offensive abilities seem like a perfect fit for the run-and-gun style that Michigan likes to play and he should make an offensive impact right away. Two years at Michigan may be a good idea, just to give Connor more time to develop physically, but if he can tear through Michigan's relatively weak schedule next year with a big point total, he may be one-and-done for the Wolverines similar to Dylan Larkin last season.