No. 19: Matt O’Connor (Reader rank: 13, Last year: 13)
As the Top 25 Under 25 series continues, we see the effect one disappointing year can have. After being ranked 13th last year after choosing the Senators while having many suitors straight out of college, a tough first year of pro hockey has O’Connor falling to 19th in this year’s edition.
First, the good. Matt O’Connor is 6’5” (or 6’6”, depending who you ask) and 205 lbs, covering a lot of the net just by his own size. His athleticism is a big plus. He took a little while to grow into his own, but once he did, he was impressive. He had a stellar college career with Boston University, improving ever year. A year ago, he was the 23rd-ranked goaltending prospect according to InGoal Magazine. If you haven’t seen any of O’Connor’s body of work, check out this highlight reel from his BU days:
Now it can’t all be good, otherwise he wouldn’t be dropping in our rankings. Thanks to an injury to Andrew Hammond, Matt O’Connor got his first taste of NHL action before AHL action, starting in the team’s home opener. (This ended up being quite the point of criticism for Eugene Melnyk.) He was fine in his pro debut, allowing three goals against the then-high-powered Canadiens, but it unravelled from there. He ended up with a record of 10-20-3 on a very poor Binghamton squad, to go along with a 3.31 GAA and .895 save percentage. Those numbers don’t even tell the whole story, because he didn’t get his first win of the year until December, in his 11th start. Chris Driedger ended up with the starter’s role by default, and it wasn’t until late in the season that O’Connor seemed to show any of the consistency required to be an AHL starting goalie. There were even calls to send him to the ECHL.
Now, not all is doom and gloom. After all, he hasn’t forgot the skill or lost the size that made him such a sought after target last summer. Adjustment to the pro game (and an 80-game season) can be harder for some players than others. With a brand new coaching staff, including the first-ever Binghamton-specific goalie coach, O’Connor will be given the resources and the opportunity to justify his position in the organization. Being a late bloomer at the pro level shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed his career thus far. The only question is if he falters, does he get another chance? Or will his NHL shot have run out before it even really began?