Ex-Canucks prospect Connauton embraces chance to start afresh as star in Texas
Former AHL Wolves’ blueliner no longer worried about offensive label
Former Canucks prospect Kevin Connauton, now playing in the AHL playoffs for the Texas Stars, says his trade to the Dallas Stars may be the best thing to have happened in his pro hockey career.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG
VANCOUVER — It seems Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is not the only guy reaching for the reset button.
Former Canucks prospect Kevin Connauton has already pressed his.
Initially shocked by the trade early last month that sent him to the Dallas Stars as part of the deal that brought Derek Roy to Vancouver, Connauton now thinks it may have been the best thing that has happened to him in his pro hockey career.
“Coming here was really a positive thing, it was a fresh start,” Connauton, now playing in the American Hockey League playoffs for the Texas Stars, said Tuesday. “I was able to hit the reset button and it’s been nothing but positives since I got here.”
Connauton’s improved play with the Stars is not making that Roy trade look any better for the Canucks, who also sent a second-round pick to Dallas.
The 23-year-old defenceman finished the regular season with Texas, accumulating two goals and six points in nine games. And he leads the Stars with five points in seven playoff games. Texas trails its best-of-seven, second-round series with the Oklahoma City Barons 2-1.
“Definitely at the time I was shocked, I didn’t think I was going to get traded,” Connauton said. “But at the end of the day I think it was best for me. I’m happy to be here now, down in Texas. I think the opportunities are a lot greater here. I’ve got a better chance of advancing my career in this organization, I think.
“With everything that has been going on, it’s got that rebuild mentality and I think it’s exciting to be a part of something like that ... With the Canucks, there wasn’t a lot of space for guys. They have a lot of guys signed to long-term contracts and they have a lot of good defencemen in that system, so for me it really wasn’t working out the way I would have liked it to.”
Connauton, who was drafted in the third round by the Canucks in 2009, acknowledged that his progress was hurt by being labelled an offensive defenceman who needed to work on the defensive side of his game. Connauton, who had 72 points in his one season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, worried so much about shaking that label that he got away from the real strengths of his game.
“Ever since I got drafted people would be talking about me being a defensive liability, an offensive D-man and it’s frustrating to hear that,” he said. “If you have enough people saying that sometimes you start believing it yourself which is never good. At the beginning of this season I was so frustrated with trying to shake that label, I got away from playing my game and I had a bit of a slow start. It was around Christmas when I was able to get things back on track and start playing to my strengths and that is what I have to continue to do.
“I have worked the last three years to round out my game. I know I have been improving. I have heard that from my coaches. That’s the biggest thing for me. It was just something I could never shake when I was in Chicago and in the Canucks’ organization.”
FAMILIAR NAME: There is a Canuck connection to Connauton’s new defensive partner in Texas. He has been playing with Cameron Gaunce, who was traded to Dallas from the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline and is the older brother of 2012 Canuck first-round pick Brendan Gaunce.
“We both got here on the deadline,” Connauton said. “I didn’t put two and two together when I first met him, but then he told me. It’s kind of a small world how that works.”
EUROPEAN VACATION: This is the fifth time Dan Hamhuis has played at the world championship for Canada and before leaving for Europe the Canuck defenceman said it never gets old.
“It’s neat to travel to Europe and that and I love playing for Canada,” he said. “It truly is an honour to wear that jersey and play. Hockey Canada treats us so well over there, too. Our families come over so it’s neat to share with the families. And then there’s camaraderie with the players you meet over there. It has been a great experience in those (previous) four years that I did play. I made a lot of friends that I still keep in touch with.”
STRONG START: Hamhuis and his Canadian teammates had the day off Tuesday, but the other four Canucks playing at the worlds were in action when Sweden beat Denmark 4-2 on the final day of round-robin competition.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin each had a goal and an assist for Sweden and played on a line with Dallas winger Loui Eriksson. Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler had an assist on Sweden’s fourth goal.
Sweden meets Canada in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
The tournament ended Tuesday for Canuck prospect Nicklas Jensen, who had two goals and no assists in the three games he played for Denmark.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOW: Former Canuck goalie Kirk McLean is the latest victim of the housecleaning going on with the Colorado Avalanche. McLean was let go Tuesday as goalie coach of the Avs, a position he had held since 2010.
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