When the Colorado Avalanche selected Cale Makar with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, everyone knew they were adding a blue chip prospect to the organization. Joe Sakic had selected a right-shooting defender who was a great skater and fit the mold of the high-end puck mover NHL teams covet. For those around the OHL, it was obvious they had added a second one soon after, when they selected Conor Timmins with the first pick in round two.
Drafted 32nd overall from the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, Timmins was a prospect who had no business dropping out of the top-20 in the draft class. He was one of the best defensemen in the OHL during his draft year and only slipped because he didn’t pass the eye test for a lot of scouts. He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have one skill that stood out above the rest but that’s because he didn’t have to be, he was smarter than most junior hockey players. Timmins does everything well - if not spectacularly - but what sets him apart as a defender is his mind. He didn’t necessarily stand out on a game to game basis, not due to a lack of skill but due to his penchant for always being in the right position or making the right play. The old adage is that if you don’t notice a defenseman in a game, they must be having a good night. Timmins definitely fits that bill.
He didn’t have to be flashy in junior because on most nights, he was playing a quiet, simplified style that both won his teams games and made it evident that he would one day be an NHLer.
The Avalanche were lucky that he was still available to them in the second round and used the pick to show that you always take the best player available. Sakic drafted two right-defensemen with his two early picks but redundancy didn’t matter - those picks turned 2017 into a great draft class for the Avs.
The next season, Conor Timmins turned into the best defender in all of junior hockey. He was Team Canada’s best player at the World Juniors - a team that included Cale Makar - and looked like he was on the fast track to making an impact at the professional level. Then came the injuries. After missing the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury, Timmins took a big hit while playing in the OHL playoffs. What looked like a season ending concussion turned into a lot more.
After a number of setbacks, Timmins ended up missing the entire 2018-19 season. He spent most of the year to home in St. Catherines, Ontario while he worked his way through post-concussion syndrome. It was a scary time period for the young man but one in which he was able to fully heal. He came back to training camp this past August and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. After being one of the most impressive Avalanche players in the preseason, he was sent to the AHL to get accustomed to the professional game and to work his way back through the grind of a full hockey season after being away from the game for more than 15 months.
Timmins was able to put up 27 points in his first professional season, but what’s more important is that he played in all situations and was able to get a feel for the speed of the next level.
Now, after 40 games playing mostly on the top pairing with the Colorado Eagles, Timmins has been with the Avalanche for their “return to play” training camp and he has looked really good. Not only has he fit in with the NHLers, Timmins might now have a chance to get into game action when the Avalanche head to Edmonton next week.
After an incredible rookie season that has him as the favorite to win the Calder Trophy, Cale Makar has been expected to play a big role in any success the Avalanche have in these playoffs. Unfortunately, Makar has missed the last number of practices after being ruled as “unfit to practice” - a new term the NHL has adopted used to shelter the medical privacy of its players.
With Makar away from the ice, Timmins has been moved up the RD depth chart and is getting more regular reps with the game-day lineup. Makar’s absence means that Erik Johnson has become the only right-handed shooting defender from the regular season lineup. It also means that there is a big opportunity for someone like Timmins to work their way into the lineup.
There is the distinct possibility that when game time rolls around, Makar is going to be ready to go. There is also the possibility that if he’s not, coach Bednar decides to err on the aside of veterans and throw Mark Barberio or Kevin Connauton into the lineup.
But if Bednar is willing to roll the dice with another rookie - the way he did with Makar in last year’s playoffs - there is a strong probability that Timmins will seize the opportunity and become impossible to remove from the lineup.
Conor Timmins is going to be a big part of any success the Colorado Avalanche have in the coming years, though most didn’t expect it to start this season. Now, with an injury situation that seems like a blow to the team’s Stanley Cup chances, Timmins might be the answer. It’s unlikely he will have the three-zone impact that Makar had in the regular season but that doesn’t mean he can’t help the team win.
Timmins may be a rookie but from as young as 16-years old, he has played like a veteran. He’s smart, poised and plays the unspectacular style that come from playing a game devoid of big mistakes. Whether Makar is in the lineup or not, Timmins is the type of player good teams need in the playoffs - he just needs his chance.