Crashing the Net: KC and the cannon

Since being claimed off waivers, Blue Jackets defenseman Kevin Connauton has flourished with the opportunities he's earned in Columbus.

Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Blue Jackets started the day with an off-ice workout after blowing a two-goal lead on the way to a 3-2 defeat the night before.

The sweaty and flushed faces showed the strain of the sleds filled with weights the players were dragging as they did circuit after circuit around the event level of the arena. With four games over the next six days, this was somewhat planned.

And while the season is not taking the expected trajectory, one of the bright spots has been the players the organization found via waiver claims. Jack Skille was claimed just prior to the season starting as the injuries were beginning to mount to the forward corps. Kevin Connauton was claimed in mid-November to bolster the blue line, and has run with the opportunity he’s been afforded.

"You can find them," Todd Richards said. "They’re out there. I’m not going to say it’s every year, but you can go back in the past and find one guy here, two guys there. And since they’ve been claimed off waivers, they go in and have an impact for the teams that claimed them. That’s what this system’s for."

Connauton is having a career season, recording 7-4-11 in 21 games with the Blue Jackets. He’s shown poise on the ice, often slowing things down for a split-second to make the correct play instead of a hurried one. He’s also shown that he’s not afraid to shoot the puck, getting it through to the net more often than not.

"I think it’s because he skates," said Richards. "That’s what gives him the extra second or two to make plays. He gets it on his stick, take a couple of steps and he’s created a passing lane for himself.

"The other thing that he’s done well for us is shooting from the point. He’s the one guy that seems to shoot and he gets puck to the net. He’s getting rewarded for it right now. If you shoot it enough and get it there enough, you’re going to get rewarded."

Beyond the opportunity he’s earned to contribute to the team, he’s hasn’t stopped doing what he can to improve his game. While every player watches game film, Connauton takes the extra step of going over every shift of his with assistant coach Craig Hartsburg, himself a pretty good defenseman and a three-time All-Star.

"Everyone learns in different ways," said Connauton. "The coaches are the guys that put you on the ice, so you pick their brain to see what they want. You want to play to the way that they expect you to play.

"He’s as good as they come," he said of Hartsburg. "It’s nice having those guys as coaches because they’ve been there. You want to pick their brain and learn from them. I think you’d be crazy not to learn from guys like that, because one day you want to get to that position and say that you’ve done that, as well."

With Connauton signed through next year, the future does indeed look bright for this young defenseman as he matures and gains more responsibility. Coupled with a healthy Ryan Murray, the blue line of the future is looking pretty sound.