Once upon a time, in 2009 to be exact, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Chris Conner to a one-year contract.
Conner spent the majority of the 2009-10 campaign with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh’s American Hockey League affiliate. He scored nearly a point per game, tallying 56 points in 59 games. His totals included two hat tricks in the month of February, which earned him AHL Player of the Month honors.
As a reward for his efforts in Wilkes-Barre, Conner got to spend eight games with the big team. He scored two goals in a January victory over the New York Rangers.
Prior to his Pittsburgh call-up, Conner had played in 71 NHL games, tallying 21 points with the Dallas Stars. So the NHL wasn’t exactly new to him, but Penguin fans were quick to take notice at how valuable he was.
He also surprised many with his blazing speed and willingness to play in the corners. At 5’8”, no one could expect those things coming from a guy who is small by NHL standards. But there he was.
Conner was re-signed this off-season to another one-year deal and played 11 games with W-B/S to start the season. He had nine points, and once again the big club came calling. It looked like it would just be a temporary call-up for Conner, as Jordan Staal was still out of the lineup recovering from injuries.
However, if Conner keeps up his current performance, he could soon be looking for a home in Pittsburgh.
He first got on the board in his second call-up on November 22, when he had an assist in a victory over the Florida Panthers. He then posted his first goal of the season on November 29 against the Rangers, whom he had stolen victory from less than a year before.
But it was in last night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings that Conner continued to prove his worth and once again made Penguins fans pay attention.
Conner was awarded a penalty shot after being taken down on a scoring chance. The crowd at Consol Energy Center roared in excitement as Conner stood at center ice.
When the referee blew his whistle, Conner skated in on Red Wings goalie Joey Macdonald and put the puck between his legs. The momentum from the goal carried the Penguins to a 4-1 victory and their fourth straight win.
After 30 games this year, he now has 10 points and a plus-10 rating.
To make things even more exciting, the Penguins have not lost a game in which he has scored a goal.
Having watched Conner play in Wilkes-Barre, I am extremely happy for his success.
After that penalty shot goal, I told my friends that if Conner did not already have a permanent spot on the Pittsburgh roster, he should now. No one could disagree.
Penguins broadcaster and former player Bob Errey said it best last night: "Chris Conner has not had a bad game in a Penguins uniform."
While he was with the Stars organization, he got a good amount of playing time, but he never got a lasting spot on the Dallas roster.
Is that all about to change with Pittsburgh?
I think so.
Let’s hope this story has a happy ending and that Conner can join former Wilkes-Barre teammates Mark Letestu and Deryk Engelland in celebrating a new contract extension.