For most aspiring hockey players, the ultimate opportunity never really materializes. Years of hard work combined with countless practices and conditioning sessions typically ends with the limitations of their own natural talent. Yet for the fortunate few, the ultimate opportunity is indeed real – the chance to play with the world’s best and compete at the game’s highest level. For Connor Hobbs, who is entering the final year in his entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals, the coming season represents a critical point in his own ultimate opportunity. A season that will weigh heavily on his future direction with the Capitals organization, and his direction in professional hockey.
Hobbs, the Capitals’ fifth-round pick (#143 overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry draft, has occasionally shown moments of brilliance, signs of being a “late-round steal” by the Capitals. A physical, sound defenseman, with a blistering hard shot and propensity to score goals in bunches made him an exciting, atypical, two-way defenseman. But his development in the WHL and AHL so far has been both encouraging and discouraging.
The West Is The Best…..(So Far)
Hobbs was a defensive scoring machine in the WHL, beginning with his 2015-2016 season. He totalled 19 goals and 22 assists in 58 games in his first full season with the Regina Pats. He led all Regina defenders with 41 points. Hobbs’ statistical high-point to date came in his final year at Regina (2016-2017) where he tallied 31 goals and 54 assists in 67 games played, setting a number of team and league records. Hobbs did play some at the forward position due to a rash of injuries to the Pats forwards, but most of his scoring came from his defensive position. Hobbs was also a physical force in the WHL.
Hershey (Black and) Blues
Hobbs has not fared as well during his first two seasons in the AHL, as injuries have hampered both of his first two campaigns in Chocolate Town. As a result, he played in just 44 games during the 2017-2018 season, and 59 games in 2018-2019 season.
For the 2017-2018 season, Hobbs had three goals and 13 assists in 44 games played, and scored his first career AHL goal on October 28th against the Providence Bruins (here). Hobbs also displayed a good deal of grit in his first year in Hershey, dropping the gloves on a number of occasions (here.), and was 6th on the Bears in total PIMs with 61 minutes. But as we noted, injuries would limit Hobbs’ ice time. He suffered a fractured wrist on November 4th against the Toronto Marlies (here), causing him to miss six weeks of the season. Hobbs suffered another injury on March 2nd, causing him to miss most of the month of March.
For the 2018-2019 season, Hobbs registered three goals and 15 assists in 59 regular season games, essentially the same offensive production as the previous season, yet he showed significant signs of improvement defensively in his own end. Unfortunately, the season included another significant injury, sidelining him from December 15 to January 11. Hobbs also experienced a bit of a downturn in his play during the middle of the season, and was a healthy scratch for three games in February. Hobbs was also a healthy scratch five times in March, leaving some wondering if maybe we had seen the best Hobbs had to offer. The mistakes in Hobbs defensive game also began to resurface in the second half of the season. In the end, Hobbs was a -7 on the season, registered 88 shots, good enough for 11th on the team, and third-most for a Bears defenseman.
Hobbs has always been a physical player, so finding a healthy balance will be difficult, but critical. For Hobbs, staying relatively healthy will be job one. Yes, hard to achieve when physicality is such a big part of your game, a fine line indeed. Hobbs will also need to shore-up his play and decision-making in his own end, something he has been steadily improving upon since arriving in Hershey. A full year of development could have him back in the running for a future spot in the Nations Capital.
But there are other, outside factors to contend with.
Contending With “The Gudas Patch”
At first it may sound like a name for a trendy new Fondue joint in the District, but for the Washington Capitals, “The Gudas Patch” is real. Lucas Johansen (21) and Connor Hobbs (22) are both heading into their third season with AHL Hershey, and the final year’s of their entry level deals. It’s safe to bet that Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan was counting on a least one of those draft picks to begin figuring into the top-7 discussion in Washington by this fall, if not sooner. That’s not going to happen. Enter “The Gudas Patch”.
Radko Gudas was brought in the fill the void for this season. He has one year remaining on his current deal, making next summer a key decision-point for Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. Will someone in Hershey make the move for the Capitals roster, or will the Capitals once again need to find a patch?
Competing With “The Dirty Dozen”
New prospects, including Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary, could very well step past Hobbs and the existing blueline prospects group. In addition, the Bears have signed a couple of seasoned vets seasoned vets to one year tenders, making the blue line a very crowded place in Hershey. The battle for playing time may be the stiffest Hobbs has ever had to deal with.
Hobbs will be battling for playing time with as many as a dozen other defenseman in this year’s training camp. But for Hobbs, a relatively rare right-handed defenseman in the Capitals system, the opportunity to make it to the next level is still very real. He needs a little luck (stay healthy) and to make the most of his “opportunity” this coming season. More often than not, a fifth round draft pick won’t make the NHl. But for Hobbs, he could be one of the few to make it happen.
By Jon Sorensen
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