DALLAS, Texas – Hot starts to a season happen for many players across all levels of professional hockey. Connor McDavid has scored 17 points in eight games with Edmonton so far, and in all reality will most likely continue this stellar pace.
In the American Hockey League, Utica’s Reid Boucher has gotten six points in three games with the Comets to be one of the top scorers in the AHL, and in the ECHL we have Colt Conrad who leads the league with a remarkable nine points in three games.
What’s more interesting to me is the quiet manner in which Conrad has racked up these points. Entering Saturday’s game against Brampton, Conrad had just two goals and the rest coming as assists. In fact, Conrad has collected points in almost every situation so far this season, even strength, power play, and during 3-on-3 overtime play. This has spurred me to study Conrad closely, figure out who he is, and see if his incredible point production is truly sustainable or a mere stroke of luck.
In 2018-19, Conrad was playing his senior year at Western Michigan, capping off an impressive collegiate career with 38 points in 37 games before signing with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL where he would go on to score two goals in seven regular-season appearances. A product of the illustrious Shattuck St. Mary’s prep program, Conrad could be a late bloomer that slipped through the cracks – the kind of player the Toronto Maple Leafs love to have in their development pipeline. Think of a player like Trevor Moore, who went undrafted before being signed by the Maple Leafs to play for their AHL club after his days at the University of Denver. Now, Moore is on the cusp of being a bonafide NHLer that has five points in eight games with the Leafs this season. Moore became a low risk-high reward signing that hardly eats up any cap space after proving himself in the minors, this is the plan that the Leafs have for Conrad.
In their first four games this season, the Growlers have played the Reading Royals at home all three times, Brampton once, and Conrad has been impressive in each game. He had two points in the first two outings, a very impressive five-point night in their third game, and a goal in Friday night’s game.
Is Conrad the best play-maker in the ECHL this season, or is his hot start bound to cool of?
Take a look at his highlights and numbers so far from this season, and I will provide commentary on how I believe each of his points below… For those of you unfamiliar with Conrad, he wears number 39.
1) In his first point of the season, we see Conrad hit the breaks to create space between he and his teammates as he enters the zone. It’s a play that is very much like what we see Mitch Marner do when entering the zone with John Tavares, and one that I’m sure he’ll keep in his repertoire as the season moves along.
2) For Conrad’s second assist of the night he begins with the puck behind his own net and recognizes a lane to skate it out as Reading’s defenders give him space. This is followed by a pass as he crosses his blueline, then plays support as his teammates score. Not really an offensive play by him, but a fantastic zone exit is something that any coach will take.
3) While his third point isn’t exactly a power-play tally, it may as well be one. As the penalty to Reading is expiring, we see Conrad make a nice cross-ice pass to the eventual goal scorer, Aaron Luchuk. These passes prove to be very valuable, especially on the power play as it gets the goaltender and defenders moving and they’ll be prone to making mistakes.
4) An overtime game-winning assist by Conrad who kept his composure after making a nice deke in the offensive zone followed by a pass while falling down. In doing this he drew two of Reading’s players towards him, allowing fellow rookie Mac Hollowell to score the game-winner.
5) Very similar to Conrad’s second point, we see him take the puck from his own zone and skate it up the ice, dump it into the offensive zone, and still ensure that the Growlers maintain possession. The ability for Conrad to identify lanes and exploit them against the opposition will prove to be very valuable if he can keep it up this season.
6) I’m not sure what happened here, or how he was awarded an assist on this play… Scorekeeper’s error, perhaps?
7) On the power play in what has become his usual spot, Conrad makes a nice inside pass that leads to a shot, rebound, and goal. His ability to identify passing lanes is phenomenal.
8) For Colt Conrad’s lone goal this season we see him yet again identify a lane in the offensive zone, skate through it and fire a shot on the power play. The easy play would have been to take a shot the moment he got the puck, but his ability to skate closer to the net allowed him to score and is what separates good and great players.
9) A turnover by the Royals in their own zone leads to a fast-break opportunity by the Growlers and a wonderful tic-tac-toe play.
What we can conclude from the clips above is that if his ability to drive play from the defensive zone to the offensive zone continues to progress then I don’t suspect we will see him in the ECHL for long. In addition, if he can continue to find lethal cross-ice passing lanes from his current spot on the power play, then I suspect Newfoundland will continue to find success with the man advantage – they’ve already scored five times on the power play this season.
Keep an eye on Colt and the Growlers as they take on the Brampton Beast again tonight.