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Kyle Connor in high demand as his NHL draft stock rises

It was a busy week for Kyle Connor. He had interviews with 25 of the 30 NHL teams and is a potential top-10 draft pick.

But he still went into Saturday’s fitness testing looking to make a statement.

“I think everyone has something to prove,” Connor said. “You want to make an impression on scouts.” Being a top 10 pick “could happen. You never know.”

Connor had a standout season for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League. He was named the USHL Player and Forward of the Year and won USA Hockey’s Dave Tyler Player of the Year Award, given to the top American-born junior player.

In 56 games this year he scored 34 goals, including a league-high nine game winners, with 46 assists. In his USHL career he racked up 195 points (82 goals, 113 assists) in 174 games.

Central Scouting has him ranked No. 13.

The rankings aren’t something Connor can control, so he doesn’t follow them closely. But the way he plays, that’s completely in his control and what helped him become one of the best American players in his age group.

“Midway through the season we were in fifth place looking up and I wanted to make a statement,” Connor said. “I turned my season around at that point.”

He did just that as the Phantoms finished with the best record in the league.

“Personally I played really well,” Connor said. “I think I took a lot of strides … getting stronger throughout the season, my stride and skating ability and working on getting stronger.”

A native of Shelby Township, Mich., he will play for the University of Michigan next season and was emphatic he would be with the Wolverines and not jump to the OHL instead.

“I’m really looking forward to getting in there and getting Michigan back to the tournament,” he said.

He also had high praise for the USHL – considered the best junior league in the United States with a growing reputation for producing elite players.

“The league is getting better every year and producing more first rounders,” Connor said. “I think USHL does a great job developing players. For me, I’d like to put on little strength. For me that’s one of my weakness so with the game schedule and school it gives you an opportunity to work on your strength. … There’s a a lot of talent in USHL. Every game is tough. It’s a battle.”

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