By now, we all know Conor Timmins’ story. It’s been a long, harrowing journey for the highly-touted and well-regarded Colorado Avalanche prospect.
Due to injuries — and now, of course, the unforeseen leagues-wide suspensions of play — Timmins’ development has been largely forced into sporadism in his first two years since being drafted.
Two months after signing his entry-level deal with the Avs just over two years ago in March of 2018, Timmins was set to finish out the season with a strong Soo Greyhounds team, which fought its way to the OHL Finals that year. It was believed Timmins, the Avs’ 2017 second-round selection, would make a push for a roster spot at the start of the 2018-19 NHL season.
Then everything changed.
In Game 5 of that 2018 OHL Finals, Timmins’ trajectory towards the pros came to a screeching halt. Instead of training and preparing for life in the NHL, Timmins would spend the next 18 months recovering from an injury we won’t bother talking about anymore.
Some eight months later, Timmins was sent to Loveland to rehab with the Colorado Eagles. After missing so many months of training and practice, some general rust was to be expected. And according to his coach, that was the case.
Eagles head coach Greg Cronin said of his rookie project. “He came last January and he struggled on the defensive side of the puck,” said Eagles head coach Greg Cronin. “His footwork, his balance — it was alarming when you watched it. I heard all these good things about him and I was like ‘how does this translate?’
“But he’s a quiet kid and he’s extremely competitive and he’s got a lot of pride.”
“It’s tough,” Timmins said of playing in the AHL. “Everyone’s grown men here and you have to be physically ready every game and mentally ready. It’s a tough league but I think the more the years go on, the more I’ve adapted and I feel better every game.”
Timmins has adapted quite well and his stats back that up. In his junior days, Timmins was probably known best for his offensive upside and his ability to quarterback an offense on the blueline. During his breakout season of 2016-17, Timmins ranked third among OHL defensemen with 61 points in 67 games. The following season, Timmins returned to the Soo as an assistant captain and notched 41 points in 36 games while also helping Team Canada capture the gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championships, finishing fifth among WJC D-men with five points in seven games — just behind fellow Avs 2017 draftee Cale Makar.
For the most part, that offensive ability of Timmins’ has translated well to the pros. In his first season in the AHL, Timmins’ 24 assists through 40 games is tied for sixth-best among AHL D-men, as is his 27 points. It’s also worth noting that his .675 points-per-game average ranks third among league rookie D-men (who have played 40 games or more).
But at the end of the day, Timmins is a defenseman, and providing offense will always be secondary to a defenseman.
“My belief is I don’t care how good you are offensively, if you’re reliable defensively and confident, your offense is going to take off from there because you’re going to get the puck back quicker,” added Cronin. “I think he’s kind of doing that now.”
Defense, as Cronin alluded to earlier, was initially a struggle for Timmins in his transition to the AHL. Cronin likes to do a drill in practice to get a good gauge on where his defensemen are at. That drill proved to be a bit of a challenge for the newest Eagles D-man.
“It was real humbling for him. We do an exercise where they have to defend small one-on-one battles with no stick and that gives a player a good idea of where he’s at athletically with his balance,” Cronin said of his benchmarker drill. “And I think that really humbled him because he was one of those guys that relied on his offense and his finesse with his stick to play defense.
“I think that was a moment that he had to take ownership of. It was baby steps because there’s a lot of things that go into that exercise — it’s balance, it’s strength, it’s flexibility.”
What was maybe initially a struggle for Timmins is now becoming a strength.
“And to his credit, he worked on the flexibility part, he worked on the strength part, he’s still working on it and he’s gotten way better,” added Cronin. “If you saw an image from him last January to now you’d be like ‘woah, it’s different player.’”
And while Timmins worked hard at all of those things Cronin pointed out, it’s Timmins who credits his coach for his own marked improvement.
“He really takes the time with his players and really makes sure you’re dialed in,” Timmins said of coach Cronin. “He just focuses in on the small details. He gives you the techniques and the strategies to go about your game and I think it’s up to you to take those and implement them into your game. A lot of coaches don’t focus on those little things.”
Add his lengthy time off recovering from injury, coupled with making the jump to the hockey world’s top-tier of development and amateur competition, a small learning curve is to be expected.
But Timmins took to the AHL game quite quickly, actually. In his first month as a pro, he tallied three goals and eight points in his first 14 games. Then, in his second month, another five points in seven games before a lower-body injury sidelined Timmins for six weeks — yet another bump in the road on his journey.
However, if you ask Timmins, despite his injuries, he’s really doing just fine.
“I think it’s going pretty well,” Timmins said of rookie season. “Obviously I missed some time with the injury, and when I first came back I struggled a little bit. But I think I’ve been kind of hitting my stride [recently] and I feel pretty good.”
As far as how he’d grade himself in his first pro season? Well, he doesn’t really focus on that. He’s just taking it one day at a time.
“I think I just try to take it game by game,” he said. “We look at the season in about 15 game segments so I kind of check in with the coaches every 15 games. Overall, I think it’s been a good year.”
While Timmins started the year as a member of the Avalanche’s 23-man roster, it was ultimately in his, and the Avs’, best interest to get some more development time in the AHL. Rather than playing 10 minutes per game in the NHL, as he was doing in his first couple games with the Avalanche, Timmins is spending much more time on the ice in Loveland with the Eagles, gaining valuable development time in his young career and setting him up for future success in the NHL.
All that said, it’s really only a matter of time until Timmins is a mainstay on the Avs’ blueline.
“That’s always my goal. Even when I’m down here, I’m striving to get up there,” Timmins said of reaching the NHL. “I’m just going to keep working hard and keep developing, and I think if I play my game I’m going to continue to develop and I’ll have a good chance.”