There’s been a lot of talk of a fresh start this season for the Dallas Stars with a new GM, new coach, new players and new uniforms. For defenseman Kevin Connauton almost every one of the last six seasons must have seemed like a fresh start.
Connauton has played for six different teams over the past six seasons, and he’s hoping to make it seven teams in seven seasons with the Dallas Stars being that team.
“Everyone is really excited with all the changes,” Connauton said. “It’s kind of a fresh start, especially for me. It’s a new team, a new group of guys and I am doing everything I can to make sure I am a part of it.”
Dallas acquired Connauton from Vancouver last season in the deal that sent center Derek Roy to the Canucks. The 23-year-old Connauton immediately joined the Texas Stars of the AHL, where he had six points (two goals, four assists) in nine games. He led Texas in playoff scoring with five points (two goals, three assists) in nine games.
“Kevin’s game grew in a short period of time. It’s a difficult transition for any player to come in late, but I thought he seized the minutes that he got well in Texas,” said Scott White, Stars Director of Hockey Operations and Texas Stars GM. “He showed he had the ability to move the puck, get to pucks quick and move it out and play like we thought he could play. He put himself in a good position for this year.”
The Dallas Stars made it apparent that Connauton put himself in a good position when they signed him to a three-year contract over the summer. The first year was a two-way deal and the final two-years were one-way.
“I take that as a huge confidence booster, but you can’t get too comfortable. It is all the more reason to work even harder,” Connauton said. “I am very fortunate to get the deal that I did. I was really happy that things worked out the way they did. It makes me even hungrier and motivates me even more. I am coming in here fighting for a job. That is my number one mindset.”
Connauton, Vancouver’s third round pick (83rd overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft, was thought to be close to NHL ready last season just before the trade to Dallas. Coming into this year’s training camp with the Stars, he was considered a strong possibility to grab a roster spot. But there was no guarantee and the competition in camp and the preseason has been stiff.
“It’s up to me to prove that I belong here,” said Connauton. “There are obviously a lot of good defensemen here, but that is something I am used to, going into training camp with a heavy depth chart. That just makes things more competitive and that’s what you need. You need to be fighting every day for a spot.”
Connauton, listed at 6-2, 200 pounds, leans towards the offensive side of the game from the blue line. He’s an excellent skater, moves the puck well and has a great shot. At the AHL’s 2012 All-Star Classic, he won the hardest shot contest with a blast that clocked in at 99.4 miles per hour. If there’s work to be done, it’s on the defensive side of the game.
“He skates really well, mobility is really good,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think the offensive side will take care of itself. I think it is the defending with any young defenseman that is most important. I think he has a good read on the game, he makes good reads and I think that puts your head in the game.”
“It’s been a process the last three years and it’s been making my game more all-around,” said Connauton. “I’ve got to make sure that I play to my strengths, which is the offensive side. I’ve got to be steady in my own zone, and I feel night and day more comfortable than when I first started playing in the AHL. I think I’ve made good progress, and it’s just a matter of learning new things every day and coming to the rink with a purpose.”
And the hope for Connauton is that he’ll have another new team and another new city to call home after playing in Spruce Grove, Alberta (AJHL), Kalamazoo, Michigan (Western Michigan University), Vancouver (Western Hockey League), Manitoba (AHL), Chicago (AHL) and Cedar Park, Texas (AHL) over the past six seasons. Go back another season and you can add Edmonton, his hometown, and Fort Saskatchewan to the list.
“I’ve been traveling around North America,” Connauton said. “I think I’ve had eight coaches in the last seven seasons. Hopefully, I’ll make it nine this year.”