What the Maple Leafs can expect from Conor Timmins


In the hours after the Leafs traded for Conor Timmins on Wednesday, I texted two people.

The first was Ryan Ward, now the head coach of the Youngstown Phantoms but previously an assistant coach with the Soo Greyhounds for two of three of Timmins’ seasons there and also a video coach with the Toronto Marlies under Sheldon Keefe for two seasons.

The second was Kyle Raftis, then and now the general manager of those Greyhounds.

I texted Ward because I knew he would have insight into both the player, once a star of the junior ranks whose career has been marred by injuries, but also of his potential fit with the Leafs.

I texted Raftis because I trust him.

This was Ward’s answer: “He just kept getting better and better. (He) was a great kid and a good leader. Always worked very hard. I loved him. He’s very smart, has really deceptive skill, and will be able to play exactly how Sheldon wants. I have no idea where he is at now but if he gets back to the trajectory that he was on in the Soo, this is found money for the Leafs. Playing at home (Timmins is from St. Catharines, Ont.) should be settling for him and hopefully, he can put the injury issues behind him. He was mega dominant for us in the Soo. An exit machine.”

This was part of Raftis’ answer: “I still remember his exit meeting (after his rookie season), he had his entire summer planned out in terms of where he thought his game needed focus. By August, he showed up and was a major presence on the ice for us in all areas — PP, PK, five-on-five — and he just kept getting better. (He) was a big anchor for us on a really strong blue line (for) the next two seasons. A lot of guys watch highlights but Timmins watches a lot of hockey. He will be ready for this opportunity.”

Their answers provide insight into who Timmins is and what to expect from him. But a lot has happened in the four years since Timmins last played for Ward and Raftis, too.

I tried to piece it all together.

Timmins’ career since the Soo has been defined as much by a pair of serious injuries as it has by anything else.

Before the first of those injuries, he looked like the kind of prospect who was tracking to become an everyday top-six defenceman in the NHL.

In his draft year, his 61 points in 67 games for the Greyhounds led all draft-eligible OHL defencemen in scoring and matched a plus-53 rating that led all OHL defencemen regardless of age. He played at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at midseason and was ranked the No. 18 skater in North America by NHL Central Scouting in advance of the 2017 draft (he also ranked 25th on my list that year). The Avalanche drafted him with the first pick of the second round, No. 32, which would have today made him a first rounder.

He stayed on that track into his post-draft season, too, making Team Canada’s 2018 world junior team in Buffalo, where he registered five points in seven games and led the tournament with a plus-15 rating, even setting up the game-winning goal in the gold medal game with a primary assist on Tyler Steenbergen’s 2-1 goal in the third period against Sweden (Canada would later add an empty-netter and win 3-1). For his efforts in that tournament, he was named one of Canada’s top three players (alongside Cale Makar and Drake Batherson).

That year, in his final season in the Soo, his 1.14 points per game (41 points in 36 games) was also fourth-best among OHL defencemen behind only Evan Bouchard, Sean Durzi and Nicolas Hague, all of whom have recently become full-time NHLers.

He was limited to those 36 games in 2017-18 due to an ankle injury (even with the lost time, he was still named to the OHL’s Second All-Star Team, though). Then he suffered a concussion which would cost him his entire first professional season with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate the following year, keeping him off the ice for all of 2018-19.

Ward said the hit which gave him the concussion, delivered by then-Panthers draft pick Riley Stillman — who is now with the Canucks, “really was a terrible hit that I think affected him.”

Here’s what Timmins’ statistical profile and NHL probabilities looked like side-by-side Hague, who was actually picked two selections after him with the No. 34 pick in 2017 and is now playing full-time for the Golden Knights. (Viz courtesy Byron Bader and Hockey Prospecting.)

Despite the lost time, Timmins still made Colorado’s opening night roster out of training camp in the fall of 2019 too. After getting assigned to the Eagles two games into the year, though, he spent the rest of that regular season there, posting 27 points in 40 games before appearing in two more NHL games for the Avalanche as a black ace in the playoffs. That 0.68 points per game rate was fifth-highest amongst the 64 under-22 defencemen who played in the AHL that season, again behind and/or with only current full-time NHLers, two of whom were his now-Leafs teammates Timothy Liljegren (0.75 points per game) and Rasmus Sandin (0.71 points per game), the latter of whom he also played with in the Soo.

The following season, he then spent almost the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign with the NHL club, playing 31 regular season and 10 playoff games for the Avalanche while appearing in just six games with the Eagles (which he posted four points in).

That year, I ranked him third in my 2021 Avalanche prospect pool ranking behind only Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook.

Here was my scouting report at the time (January 2021):

I’m a big believer in Timmins as a full-time NHLer and his opportunity with the Avalanche to start the season is well-earned. His shot doesn’t pop so he’s not a threat to score from the point beyond putting pucks low through traffic, but the rest of Timmins’ game with the puck is well-rounded. Timmins is a 6-foot-2 right-shot defender with good four-way mobility (though he’s not a powerful skater, per se), smooth handling on exits and entries, and excellent passing skill and instincts on north-south outlets and east-west seams. There’s also some calculated aggression to his game, (he reads the play quickly and finds lanes and space to put the puck into). In another organization, he might have a better path to a top-four career but he’ll make a good third-pairing guy for the Avs, with above-average two-way value.

That summer, though, he was then dealt to the Coyotes along with a first and third-round pick in exchange for goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

The Coyotes promptly signed him to a two-year, $1.7-million contract, but six games into it he suffered a knee injury which required season-ending surgery, costing him his second professional season in four years.

This season marks his return from that second season-long layoff, but he found himself as a frequent healthy scratch with the Coyotes and didn’t look like quite himself during a conditioning stint in the AHL in Tucson — a conditioning stint which ended Wednesday, necessitating waivers to keep him in the AHL (where the Coyotes felt he belonged for now as he worked to rediscover his game) and prompting the trade as a way to avoid losing him for nothing.

A review of the bulk of his shifts from that conditioning stint highlights some of the positives of his game, including notably his ability to walk the line and find lanes to the net.

For his size (6-foot-2 and 202 pounds), Timmins has always been both decently-mobile and comfortable in control.

You can see some of his aggressiveness walking the line here (and how his mobility helps him track the play back):

You can see it here attacking off the line around the oncoming pressure (nice job handling the puck through his feet to step around his man as well):

And here’s some of that shot-shaping with his feet at the top of the umbrella:

The actual results on his conditioning stint were the worst of his professional career, though, with his three assists in six games offset by his six minor penalties and minus-10 rating (though the Roadrunners were outscored 26-17 in those six games as a team, his results were even worse than theirs).

Some of the lowlights from my review included a couple of panicked moments under pressure which led to a pair of those minor penalties.

Both of them looked like this, with him succumbing to the forecheck and then reaching in to take a tripping penalty:

So the Leafs aren’t exactly getting him in his best form.

And while my viewings over the years would suggest he’s got a lot more poise than he showed on his conditioning stint, and I’d guess some of the hiccups were about a guy catching up to the pace of play after another lost season, they still underscore where he’s at.

On the flip side, though, Timmins’ body of work in the NHL and AHL, given the severity of the two injuries and the months (nay, years) it cost him during pivotal, has actually remained pretty consistently positive over his coming and going from both levels over the last four seasons.

In 52 AHL games, he has registered 34 points. And though his counting stats don’t pop in the NHL (seven assists and an even rating in 41 games with the Avalanche and Coyotes), his underlying results have been strong in third-pairing usage. In the NHL to date, his team has out-attempted the opposition 499-389 (56.2 CF percent), outshot them 271-228 (54.3 SF percent), and out-chanced them 238-190 (55.6 SCF percent). Those are good numbers, even in third-pairing minutes.

As always with former Greyhounds, there’s also some bonus familiarity with the Leafs and Timmins. When the Greyhounds drafted him in April of 2014 in that year’s OHL draft, Sheldon Keefe was still the team’s head coach and Kyle Dubas was finishing his final season as their general manager and would have scouted him (as would have Victor Carneiro, who was then a scout for the Greyhounds and is now an amateur scout for the Maple Leafs). Three months after Dubas drafted him into the OHL, he was hired by Brendan Shanahan as an assistant GM with the Leafs.

Because he’s a righty, his handedness doesn’t hurt either: The Leafs’ healthy depth on the right side before the trade stood as Justin Holl, Timothy Liljegren and Mac Hollowell. That last name is another familiar face as well. If he does play in an NHL game with Sandin and Hollowell, the Leafs will be icing half of the 2017-18 Greyhounds’ blue line.

Whether he becomes a full-time NHLer for the Leafs, an injury-filler, or an AHL player for them (our Dom Luszczyszyn has him worth -0.1 wins and called him “A Guy” in his model when asked), the cost of acquiring him was net-zero, too. Timmins just turned 24 at the end of September and he’s on a controlled (he’ll still be an RFA at the end of his deal), expiring contract which counts for just $850,000 against the cap.

Going the other way was Curtis Douglas, the towering 6-foot-9 former fourth-round pick of the Stars who went unsigned and worked his way into a contract with the Leafs (Douglas had just one point in 13 games with the Marlies this season and serves more as an outgoing contract under the 50-contract limit than anything else, though he did make some progress in the Leafs system).

So if Ward’s right, and he becomes found money, or Raftis is right, and he makes the most of the opportunity, acquiring him makes a ton of sense. And if the injuries have left him veering in the wrong direction, and he can’t quite figure it out and regain the promise he showed in junior and has shown in the NHL and AHL, well, he’s organizational depth in a time of need at minimum.

(Top photo of Conor Timmins: Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)


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