Connauton showing he’s a good fit in Columbus
It’s amazing the difference a change of scenery can make.
When the Blue Jackets claimed defenseman Kevin Connauton off waivers from Dallas Nov 18, the 24-year-old had played in just eight of 18 games with the Stars and was averaging about 12 minutes per game.
That was six weeks ago.
Since joining the Jackets, Connauton has played in 15 of 18 games, is averaging over 16 minutes per game and has notched five goals and four assists. Two of Connauton’s goals have been game winners, and five of his points have come in the last two games. including the Dec 27 match versus the Boston Bruins when he earned three points.
"It’s a best case scenario for me right now," Connauton said. "I was coming in to a team that I didn’t know much about, a whole new group of guys, and a whole new system. I just looked at it as an opportunity and that it was up to me."
The offensive prowess is something that has been in Connauton’s skill set his entire career. When he played for the WHL Vancouver Giants in 2009-10, he set a franchise record for most points and most goals by a defenseman (24-48-72). The Edmonton native was also 33-55-88 in 221 AHL games in both the Vancouver and Dallas systems.
But it took leaving Dallas and coming to Columbus to regain his scoring touch. When Dallas put Connauton on waivers he was prepared to return to their AHL club when he found out he was headed east.
"I didn’t know what to expect," Connauton said. "I just knew I could come in and work hard and make a name for myself and try my best to prove to management, my coaches and my teammates that I’m here to do everything I can to help contribute."
The hard work is paying off and he’s finding a renewed focus on the positives in his game. In last night’s game against the Minnesota Wild, he had a goal and an assist but also a turnover in the middle of the ice. Assistant coach Craig Hartsburg reminded him to put that behind him and keep playing.
"I’m playing with confidence right now," Connauton said. "I’m not scared to make mistakes â that doesn’t mean you want to be making mistakes – but that to me is a huge difference. It allows you to focus on your strengths versus focusing on the negative."
And the positives keep outweighing the negative. Connauton’s assist against Minnesota came on David Savard’s game winning goal.
"The goaltender never saw the pass," said Jackets head coach Todd Richards. "The key was Connauton getting off the wall and getting in the middle of the ice because he became a threat and then guys came out and it opened up Savard."
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Richards says that Connauton’s size and strength allow him to handle bigger players in the league and that he has the ability to carry the puck and transition play into the offensive zone and make plays.
"He’s done a great job for us since he’s come in," Richards said. "One thing he’s provided our back end is that he can go back, pick up the puck and carry it the length of the ice. The way he’s playing right now, he’s a big addition to our team."
Connauton is not only settling in to his game, he’s settling in to a new city. The Edmonton native attended Western Michigan University so he was no stranger to the Midwest lifestyle, but he’s come to enjoy Columbus in particular.
He enjoys hanging out with his teammates and he’s gotten in to fantasy football for the first time. He’s also successfully found a few hole in the wall places in Columbus to eat â something he really likes doing.
"I really like it here," Connauton said. "I think it’s a great arena. I didn’t know what to expect from the fans and they’ve been awesome, they are surprisingly loud. It’s been nothing but positive things so far."
As the Jackets now leave on a nine-day, four game road trip, Connauton wants to build on the success he’s had. And he’s not content to sit back, he wants to keep pushing forward to improve his game and continue the team’s winning ways.
"That’s my mentality for the game," Connauton said. "I show up to the rink every day with the right attitude and walk out of here better every day and let the rest work itself out."
Follow Alison on Twitter at @AlisonL