Matt O’Connor may not be a familiar name to most hockey fans, but his arrival at Predators rookie camp in September is not without some notoriety.
Back in 2015, after a spectacular run with the Boston University Terriers, O’Connor was a highly sought after college free agent, who eventually signed with the Ottawa Senators. Then things got weird.
Later in the season, Sens owner Eugene Melnyk called the decision “stupid” and seemingly claimed that starting O’Connor in the home opener was one of the reasons the Sens played so poorly to begin the season.
O’Connor was eventually stashed in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators, and he did not fare well, finishing with a sub .900 save percentage. Though O’Connor was seen as a potential starter one day for the Sens, this past off-season the Senators did not submit a qualifying offer.
Enter the Nashville Predators.
With Juuse Saros manning the backup chair and Marek Mazanec in the KHL, the Preds needed to fill out some goaltending spots. They signed O’Connor on July 1st, along with former Preds draftee Anders Lindback.
So far, it looks like a smart signing at a bargain cost.
O’Connor is a tall, lean goalie (duh... Preds) with a great deal of skill for his size. At Saturday’s rookie camp game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he flashed his glove early for a couple nice saves, adding in a nice double stop later in the 1st.
But O’Connor isn’t just here to compete—he’s here to learn. Working under goalie coach Ben Vanderklok, O’Connor has been working on tracking the puck better on lateral movements.
“Right now, I’m trying to get my head over the puck a bit more, move my head into the shot,” O’Connor said after the game on Saturday. “It’s one thing to start your slide there, but another to really kind of lean into that shot when you’re moving laterally. [Juuse] Saros and [Pekka] Rinne are really good at that, I think its just good to keep working on that...”
The “head over puck” mindset isn’t new to goaltender renewal. It’s what helped Devan Dubnyk make his turnaround upon joining the Minnesota Wild back in 2015. It will be interesting to see if O’Connor can use this technique to regenerate the consistency he had back in ‘14-’15 when he won 25 games for the Terriers.
As for his role in the Predators organization, signing a two-way contract on July 1st makes it clear that O’Connor knows he is likely bound for Milwaukee when the season begins. Given his skill set and improved confidence, it also seems likely that he will put up a decent fight for the Admirals starting job.
But you never know. Even though the Predators goalie situation is rock solid as of now, an AHL goalie is never that far away from starting an NHL game. And from the sound of it, O’Connor is happy to be a part of Smashville, having watched the Preds’ Stanley Cup run last year.
“It’s really exciting, you can really see the jump in all the staff and everybody. Obviously just being around Centennial and seeing all these veterans skating, after watching them go through that amazing run, it’s just exciting. I think there’s a lot to build on with what they did last year.”
The Predators rookies play their second game against the Lightning rookies today at noon at Ford Ice Center.