When it comes to fifth-round draft picks, expectations have to remain conservative at best.
If he reaches the NHL, everyone associated in the process of selecting him, from scouts to management, looks like a genius in hindsight. But if things don't end up panning out, it was simply a low risk investment that simply didn't cash in.
Meet Connor Hobbs, a 2015 fifth-round selection whose NHL outlook remains uncertain, but certainly looks promising.
Hobbs is at the infancy of a professional year, expected to play a regular role with the Hershey Bears in this upcoming season. He's coming off of a stellar year in junior with the WHL Regina Pats. The defenseman scored 31 goals and 85 points in just 67 games. That not only led the WHL in scoring among defensemen, the goal and point total ranked 34th and 17th in the entire league, respectively. The goal total also set a franchise record for goals by a defenseman, a class that includes Barret Jackman, Al MacInnis (okay, MacInnis may have only played two games for the Pats) and Barry Trotz himself.
According to Hobbs, the offensive explosion—a 207 percent increase in scoring from his 2015-16 campaign—can be credited to one thing: his collective support system.
“I learned a lot from the players I had the year before, names like Colby Williams"—who was sitting right next to Hobbs during this quote at development camp and couldn't help but smile—"Aaron Macklin, names like that,” Hobbs said. “I had a lot of great coaching in Regina. They're the best in my mind. The players, my teammates, they obviously helped me out a lot to achieve what I did and vice versa. It was so much fun this year, I learned a lot.”
The Capitals have to be having so much fun watching him develop. In his draft year as a junior player, Hobbs was in a bad fit with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Hobbs requested a trade and proceeded to sit out a full two months. Medicine Hat eventually honored the trade, sending him to his hometown Regina Pats.
Hobbs clearly felt comfortable at home. By the end of his junior career, Hobbs earned a spot on the WHL West’s First All Star Team, and he began to gain attention at the international level. A gold medal winner in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament with Team Canada in the 2014-15 season, Hobbs was invited to Canada’s World Junior Championship summer development camp. But that was the extent of his World Junior chances. Hobbs wasn’t invited to the camp in December.
“Obviously it isn’t the news I wanted to hear,” Hobbs said at the time. “I just have to move forward. It’s part of hockey, part of life.”
The Capitals can thank those involved with Team Canada for lighting a fire in Hobbs’ belly. But what did Washington initially see in Hobbs? Just a raw, physical talent. Hobbs plays with a bit of edge. He’s compiled 198 penalty minutes in the last two seasons and is more than willing to drop the gloves to defend a teammate.
He can’t help it. Hobbs said he just loves the physicality side of the sports. He grew up playing football. More specifically, he was a quarterback and a safety, evident that he loves to dish and take.
That may be a bit of an issue in Hobbs’ professional career. He’s not exactly a hulking presence at just 6-foot-1, so the physicality may not translate as well as it did in junior. But Hobbs is thick and stout, and he recognizes that. While he is aware that he may not be a bulldozer of a defenseman as a professional, he will still bring that physicality. Hobbs said he just can’t help it, he can’t change his style of play. Hobbs knows, however, that he will just have to be smarter about it.
“I can probably pick my spots a little bit better, I think,” Hobbs said. “You know, sometimes it’s not very smart. I love hitting guys, body contact is a big part of the game, but it’s going to be different for sure.”
Hobbs has suddenly become a veteran presence within the Capitals’ development camp. This is his third since joining this organization, but this one holds a bit more meaning. The week provides young players to soak up as much information as they possibly can, and it is invaluable. But Hobbs is about to become a professional hockey player. He knows that he has a real possibility to grow as a player in the coming year, and he’s using every second of the time to absorb the crash course.
“You learn so much from the coaching staff that’s here,” Hobbs said. “They are the best in the world, and they’re in the NHL for a reason. So you better listen to them, right? You take away a lot and you just learn every second that you’re in the building. You listen to guys talk, you’re watching, and stuff like that."
Hobbs has a lot of confidence in himself, and rightfully so. He has proven that he is the full package. He can score, he can hit and he can defend. So what is there left for Hobbs to do as he nears the start of his career? He can get ready.
“My goal is to get better over the summer and come into camp in the fall in the best shape and the best mindset that I can,” Hobbs said. “I just want to be prepared all around.”