Becoming a Giant
Defenceman, Kevin Connauton was introduced to the city of Vancouver in more ways than one this summer.
First, the Vancouver Canucks selected the Edmonton, Alberta native in the third round (83rd overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft in June.
Secondly, he made the decision to play major junior hockey with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, opting to end his career with the Western Michigan Broncos after a year with the school.
The WHL club eyed the six-foot-one, 180-pounder while he was still playing Junior-A hockey in Spruce Grove (2007-08), at the time but Connauton was content on going to school.
"It wasn’t very easy especially because I was at school when I made the decision – I was training with a group of people down there," Connauton said of his decision to leave Western Michigan. "I definitely considered all the factors [but] I kind of realized you get one shot at going to the pros in hockey and you can always go back to school"
Admittedly, Connauton says knowing he was coming to the city that drafted him made things a bit easier.
"It definitely did. I’m kind of right in their back yard so they’re definitely going to be able to watch me closely and be a big part of my development this year."
As a freshman during the 2008-09 season, Connauton put up 18 points in 40 games while playing NCAA Div. 1 - impressing the Canucks brass, which lead to his eventual selection in the draft.
"He’s a guy that can make good decisions coming out of the zone with that first pass and he’s very active in the play," said Stan Smyl, the Canucks Director of Collegiate scouting. "He really stood out, and for freshmen to stand out at the collegiate level, is quite something."
Despite his size, Connauton will be the first to tell you he’s not a big hitter – it was an area of improvement in scouting reports entering the draft and it’s something he’s hoping to improve on in the WHL - a league known for its physical play.
The timing of his decision couldn’t have been better for Don Hay and the Giants who lost five regulars from their defense over the course of the off-season.
"I think it’s a real big find for our organization - Scott Bonner (GM) and his scouts did a great job identifying Kevin," Hay said. "He can skate the puck out of trouble, he’s a big body guy, can run the power play – he’s got all the good makings of going on to be a real good pro."
According to Smyl, Connauton’s decision to go play in Hay’s highly structured system will help him moving forward.
"Structure in his game, and that’s right from his own zone defensively I think is one area he’s going to have to work on," said Smyl. "Right from reading the rush on [his] defensive side."
Connauton recently concluded his stint with the Giants at their training camp preparing for Canucks rookie camp this week. The WHL's club reputation for producing high-level professional players is something the Canucks' prospect doesn't take lightly.
"Its definitely nice to see all the defencemen they have that are in the pros," said Connauton. "They have a really good track record when it comes to developing d-men and I want to be one of those guys who moves on to the next level out of this program."
With the Giants, Connauton expects to have more responsibility than he did in his freshman year of college, and he’s ready to be one of the go to guys this season.
"Last year [with the Western Michigan Gophers] I was the youngest guy on the team by quite a bit so it’s a little bit different here being one of the older guys, but I’m excited for the challenge and I’m ready to step up and fill whatever role is needed to."
In addition to using him in key situations, Hay and the Giants coaching staff have plans to help Connauton become a better all-round hockey player this season.
"We want to teach Kevin the defensive part of the game, he’s very good in the offensive part of the game," said Hay. "Defensively it means being in good position, having a good stick in the right position and just being ready to compete."
Entering what could be his first and only, season with the Giants, Connauton, who will turn 20 in February, has some goals of his own.
"You always want to improve your strength and conditioning - that’s obvious," he said. "You get better with that every year - other than that just the little things behind your own blue line, staying focused.
"I’ve put in a lot of work this summer and I think I’m going to have a pretty good camp."