Soo Greyhounds defenceman Conor Timmins is one of the fastest risers in the 2017 NHL Draft class.
With a September 18 birthdate, Timmins missed the 2016 draft cut-off by three days and didn’t put himself on the radar with a 13-point rookie season as a 17-year-old in 2015-16. Quietly, however, the Thorold, Ontario native led his team in plus/minus by a significant margin with a plus-27 — 12th-best in the OHL among defencemen and second among rookies (behind London’s Olli Juolevi).
While it’s not the most meaningful — and often the most misleading — statistic in hockey, the fact that the Greyhounds were one of the youngest teams in the CHL in 2015-16 and that their next best defenceman (by plus/minus) finished at a plus-three hinted there could be more to Timmins’ ability to drive play at even-strength than what showed in his rookie season point production.
Sure enough, following what Greyhounds head coach Drew Bannister described as a highly productive summer of offseason training, Timmins broke out in a big way in his draft year. His production skyrocketed to 61 points in 67 games (fifth among OHL defencemen) and he finished as a plus-53 (tied for third among OHL defencemen) while elevating into the top matchup role consistently from November onward. More impressive still is the portion of his production that came at five-on-five: No defenceman in the entire CHL put up more 5v5 points than Timmins’ 44 in 2016-17 (he also led the CHL in 5v5 primary assists with 21).
CHL Defencemen - 5v5 Points (>50 GP)
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Factor in his size (6’2, 184 pounds), right-handed shot and reputation as a highly-competitive player who can take care of his own end, and it would seem like Timmins should be a first-round lock in this year’s NHL draft, at a minimum.
Conor Timmins Rankings
- #30 by Craig Button
- #28 by ISS Hockey
- #44 by Future Considerations
- #23 by McKeen’s Hockey
- #18 by NHL Central Scouting (North American skaters)
While he’s shot up the draft rankings this season, one factor that could be holding Timmins out of top-20 conversations is his birthdate. He’s the oldest member of the ’17 draft class, which is notable given the significant difference a few months can make at this stage of a player’s development.
There has also been some concern about his skating, described as awkward or inelegant. However, it is significantly improved since his rookie season and it is by no means a hindrance at this stage. Overall, Timmins has good skating mechanics: he glides well enough, hinges well at the hips and knees, and he has okay footwork. It’s apparent that he has room to grow in the lower-body strength department (which isn’t uncommon with growing teenagers) and doesn’t possess high-end explosiveness. That said, his strong lateral mobility allows him to have good escapability, and his intelligent decision-making helps make up for a lack of explosiveness.
Timmins’ doesn’t show as well in goal, shot or power play production as he does in 5v5 point production — his seven goals were tied for 34th among OHL defencemen, his 2.1 shots per game ranked 29th, his 17 power play points ranked 20th — but his shot appears to be more underutilized than it is underwhelming. Overall, there isn’t a big “wow” factor in Timmins game and it can take a number of viewings to fully appreciate what makes him so effective in terms of his high hockey IQ and ability to transition the puck/exit the zone. Timmins goes about his business with a great deal of urgency at both ends of the ice; he’s not happy to sit back and receive plays defensively, or wait for plays to develop offensively.
Conor Timmins Scouting Report
Timmins can look like a rather boring player and isn’t going to excite a lay observer. However, his hockey sense drives a ton of value to his game. He doesn’t have “wow”-caliber skating or puck skills, but he’s one of the smartest defensemen in the CHL. Timmins is a very effective puck mover with top-level vision. You rarely see him cough up the puck, and he’s so effective at quickly relieving pressure and making a good play with the puck. Defensively, he’s solid because of his IQ and the way he battles to win pucks, though he needs to continue to bulk up.
I spoke with Greyhounds head coach Drew Bannister about the specifics of Conor Timmins’ game and his development over the course of the last two seasons in Sault Ste. Marie.
Interview: Drew Bannister on Conor Timmins
Conor did barely miss last year’s draft cut-off, but for a first-year eligible, the numbers are extremely impressive, especially at even strength. He actually outproduced Darren Raddysh — an overager who won the Max Kaminsky Award, put up 81 points, and is going to get an NHL deal here shortly — to lead all OHL defencemen at 5v5. What made him such an effective 5v5 producer this season?
Bannister: There’s no question about that. I just go to the kid’s plus/minus. I think, over the last two years with us, he’s been upwards or close to plus-90. That kind of says it all in the way he creates offense at five on five. Really, it starts with how he exits the zone and the decisions he makes with the puck to create offense for his linemates, and then the way he gets up the ice and is available on the rush. His instincts on the offensive side of the puck – jumping into holes, being that second wave of attack – show he has a very good understanding of the game. Obviously, it plays a lot into the way we play with four and five guys into the attack.
Everybody talks about hockey sense and Conor’s hockey sense, and the way he puts up numbers analytically; analytically, he’s been outstanding for us. If we talk about Corsi and shot suppression, he’s been one of those [top] guys.
Another stat that shows really well for Conor is his primary assists at 5v5 — 21 led the league among defencemen by a margin of five. That’s significantly more than, say, Mikhail Sergachev, who was a top-10 pick in last year’s draft. Again, it speaks to him as a real driver offensively off the backend.
Bannister: He is a guy who is relied on not only offensively but defensively as well. He played a ton of minutes for us and the toughest minutes. To me, the Western Conference this year and over the past probably ten years, there is no question it is the best Conference in the whole CHL. It’s not even debatable. We saw that with the Memorial Cup this year with what Erie did and Owen Sound and ourselves. You can throw London into the mix. Windsor was sixth in our conference and second to us in our division, and won the Memorial Cup. Conor is playing against almost all of those players every night. He’s creating offense, and he’s a plus player against those top players. A lot of those players will go on and, within a year or two, will be playing in the NHL and making an impact. I think that says a lot about that young man and the way he thinks the game.
To me, he is certainly the best defenceman in our league right now at that age. He’s proven that with the way he’s been able to create offense, like you said, at five on five. There is still a lot more to give when he’s on the power play. I think we’ll see that next year. As a young defenceman, they tend to look to pass more than shoot. He’s got an underrated shot that he doesn’t use often enough. Next year we’ll see, with his maturity, that he’ll become quite the leader on the power play and probably a very dangerous person on the point on the power play.
The leap from 13 points to 61 had to be one of the more dramatic leaps in production in the entire league, at least among defencemen. Like any second-year player, he’s a year more experienced and was getting more opportunity. Was there anything more to it than that, in terms of the work he put in the last offseason? One area scouts mention as drastically improved from last year to this year is his skating.
Bannister: When he first came to us, he really didn’t have an idea what it took to be an everyday OHL player. These kids are teenagers; they’re not pros. We are trying to get them ready to be successful. First and foremost, we want to make sure they become good junior players and understand their body and certainly what it takes to train on and off the ice. When Conor first came here a year ago, it was a big wake-up call for him. He worked hard during the year. He progressed. His skating progressed. We saw a lot of good things in him. We moved him up the lineup, but he wasn’t quite ready, so we put him down to a spot where he was more comfortable and had more success.
This past summer, coming into his draft year, he put an enormous amount of work into his skating, his physical body, and how he trained. He started to figure out his body and what he needed to do to become more of a professional athlete and look the part. He obviously got paid off.
His skating is going to continue to get better. This is a kid that puts in a lot of work and certainly, his parents are very supportive and give him all the means possible to do what he has to do in the summer. He’s working out. He’s got power skating instructors. He’s got skills guys that he works with on a daily basis. He puts in the work off the ice now. He understands what he needs to do. I just see the kid starting to fill out. He hasn’t even filled out yet; he’s pushing 6’2 and 187 pounds. I think there is a little bit more room to grow, but he’ll put on some body weight. He’ll be that much stronger.
The skating hasn’t worried me because I never see him getting beat. He doesn’t get beat at our level. His compete is just off the charts. His feet are really quick. I think that’s why, in tight spaces, he’s able to contain. In open ice, I’ve never seen him have an issue because his lateral mobility is really good. He exits the zone excellently; when he turns up ice, he’s gone. It might not look pretty, and I think that’s the one thing that everybody looks at – he’s an awkward skater. But he’s actually quite quick and he gets to the spot before the other guy. In today’s game, that’s all you have to know. If you’re smart enough and you can get there, the ability to cut guys off before they get to where they want to go is half the battle.
Moving up the depth charts was another factor. But I really agree, and I’m a big believer, that you get paid off for the work you do in the offseason. I think he committed himself last summer to what he needed to do. He knew it was going to be one of his most important years of his hockey career up to date, and he put in the work. Now he’s going to get rewarded for it. Like you said, there’s a very good possibility that he’ll go in the first round. To be honest, I’d be shocked if he didn’t go in the first round from what I’ve seen. I can only comment on our league, but there are not too many defencemen in this league right now that are draft eligible that can do what he does on a nightly basis, certainly not in the Western Conference. Whoever gets him will be extremely happy with the type of player he’ll be for them long term.
In terms of the role he played, which rapidly expanded this year, how soon was he your most relied on defenceman in those top matchups and defensive zone situations?
Bannister: We had to do some mixing a little bit. It was probably around November that we made some changes with our D partners where he moved up with Colton White and we moved Gustav Bouramman down. It seemed to work for both of them. Conor just kind of grew from there. In training camp, he showed the ability that he could probably work our number-one unit. It probably wasn’t until late in November where he kind of took the role over on that number-one power play unit. From there, a lot of people started to notice him and started to appreciate some of the smaller things he did for us, whether it was with the puck or away from the puck.
When you put it all together – the very good offensive production, the right-handed shot, his ability to take care of his own end, his size and physical play — it seems like he should be higher up some draft boards than he is. Is that down to the fact that he’s maybe not the most aesthetically-pleasing skater in the class? Do you think the birthdate has factored in?
Bannister: Last year, he wasn’t the sexy guy because he wasn’t an underage. People didn’t pay a lot of attention to him. He just wasn’t one of those guys. Whether it was the late birthdate, if you looked at most of the draft lists coming into the draft, Conor was way, way down there. But if you go back and look at it – he was a plus-27 on our team last year on the youngest team in the CHL. Here is a kid that, in his first year in our league, led our team in plus/minus. I think people really kind of overlooked it.
I think the awkward skating has turned people off, but once they started to do their homework and really hone in on what this kid well… one of the toughest things in today’s game for defencemen is being able to get back and exit the zone cleanly. When this kid touches the puck, he makes things happen. If I am any coach in the NHL, I just want to get out of my zone. If I can get a guy who can get back there and get and make plays every single time, I don’t care how he looks going back to get the puck.
I’ll take Conor Timmins on my team any day. He just does so many good things with the puck and he gets his team out of the zone. That’s what you want to do – you want to be on the offense, you don’t want to be defending. Conor gives you that ability to create offense off the rush and exit the zone cleanly.