Michigan’s Connor one and done with Wolverines, signs NHL deal with Winnipeg

Michigan’s freshman sensation, Kyle Connor, was a Hobey Hat Trick member in 2016 (photo: Melissa Wade).

Michigan freshman forward Kyle Connor has signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and will give up his final three years of NCAA eligibility.

Connor, a finalist for the 2016 Hobey Baker Award, was named National Rookie of the Year by the American Hockey Coaches Association last Friday after a sensational campaign at Michigan.

“Playing at Michigan was the most fun year of hockey in my life, and I think that I really benefitted from all of the coaching here,” Connor said in a news release. “I want to thank everyone that works hard in the program behind the scenes as well. It was truly a dream come true to play at Michigan and an experience I’ll never forget.”

Connor, who was drafted by the Jets in the first round (17th overall) in 2015, led the nation in scoring with 71 points (35 goals, 36 assists). He finished the season with a 27-game point streak, a Michigan record, notching 59 points (30 goals, 29 assists) in that span. Named the Big Ten Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Connor was the first freshman in college hockey to record 30 goals since Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) in 2002-03, and his point total (71) matched Jack Eichel’s (Boston University) total from last season, the most by any freshman in college hockey since Paul Kariya (Maine) had 100 points in 1992-93.

This season, Connor had the most goals ever by a first-year player at Michigan, and the second-most points by a freshman in program history (Bruno Baseotto had 76 points in 1979-80). He became the first Michigan player to reach 35 goals and 70 points in one season since 1996-97, when Jason Botterill had 37 goals and Brendan Morrison had 88 points.

Connor’s individual performances stood for themselves. He led Michigan with 19 multiple-point games, and 12 multiple-goal efforts. On March 18, Connor scored four goals in a 7-2 win over Penn State in a Big Ten semifinal contest, becoming the first Michigan player to notch four goals in a game since Kevin Porter in 2008. He followed that effort with a four-point effort (goal, three assists) in a 5-3 win over Minnesota the next night to help the Wolverines earn their first ever Big Ten tournament title. For his efforts, Connor was named to the All-Tournament Team and Tournament MVP.

Earlier in the season in an 8-3 win over Minnesota on Dec. 12, Connor became the first U-M freshman to record a hat trick in a game since Michael Woodford in 2001. He also helped Michigan clinch its 17th Great Lakes Invitational title with three points (goal, two assists) in wins over Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech on Dec. 29-30, earning GLI MVP honors. His 10 power play goals on the season ranked second in the nation, and his seven game-winning goals ranked third in the country. Connor was fifth in the country with a plus-34 rating.