University of Michigan forward Kyle Connor (Youngstown Phantoms) is headlining the NCAA Tournament after leading the nation in scoring as a freshman. The Winnipeg Jets prospect was selected in the 1st round, 17th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft after leading the USHL in scoring with the Youngstown Phantoms.
Connor is on a Wolverines team that features 20 USHL alumni, including both his linemates J.T. Compher (Team USA) and Tyler Motte (Team USA). The three have aptly been nicknamed the “CCM Line.”
“I either played with or against most of the guys in the locker room,” Connor said. “It’s pretty cool that they all came from the same league and it’s just a testament to how tough the league is. Every night is a hard game.”
Connor compiled 195 career USHL points in 174 games, the most of any USHL player since the league became Tier 1 in 2001. His USHL trophy case ran out of room last season, after winning USHL Player of the Year, USHL Forward of the Year, an All-USHL First Team honor and USHL All-Academic honors.
Over the course of three years with the Youngstown Phantoms, Connor compiled a resume that drew large crowds of NHL scouts around the USHL almost every game he played. Everyone wanted to see if the USHL all-star would be worth a first round pick.
“I played three years in Ohio and it’s a big part of my life,” Connor said. “To be able to come back and play here is something pretty special.”
Connor has electrified the college hockey audience with highlight reel plays and a record scoring pace. The freshman may be the leading finalist to win the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top college hockey men’s player, and would become the sixth consecutive USHL alumni to do so.
Just last week, Connor put on a clinic at the Big Ten Championship stage.
“It was a great pass from J.T.,” Connor said. “I don’t even know if he looked. He threw it across and I didn’t have an opening so I tried to out-wait him to get around him.”
Connor has helped grow the reputation of the USHL and college hockey in just his first college hockey season. Many diehard fans understand the elite level of skill involved in both, but more and more the casual hockey fan is beginning to hear about America’s top junior league.
It’s an exciting development in Connor’s life, and he noted that he hopes to see it continue as more and more top-end guys progress to the NHL.
“It’s definitely expanding and more people recognize it,” Connor said. “You can just see from the alumni in the NHL. Dylan Larkin (Team USA) for example, and other guys are stepping in and making an impact in the NHL. You can tell they’re developing good players.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.