Matt O’Connor could be an NHL goalie for the Oilers before year-end

By now, most readers here will have heard about Matt O’Connor, the 23-year-old college free agent currently enjoying a career year as the starting goaltender for Boston University. O’Connor currently has a job; he turned aside 32 of 33 shots last night to help BU advance to the Hockey East Final, but in short order his college season will be done and he’ll be looking for his next challenge.

It might come as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, and it might come before the end of this season.

Edmonton’s interest in O’Connor goes back to before Christmas, when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Hockey Night in Canada that Oilers’ general manager Craig MacTavish had met with the player. My Cult of Hockey colleague Bruce McCurdy transcribed Friedman’s comments at the time:

There’s a teammate of [Jack Eichel] by the name of Matt O’Connor. He’s a goaltender, 6-foot-6, he’s going to be 23 in February, he has a 1.67 goals-against average. O’Connor is going to be a free agent after this year. There’s a lot of interest especially by Canadian teams. Toronto met briefly with him earlier today. Craig MacTavish met with him briefly after a game a couple of weeks ago and it’s expected Oilers will meet with him further. O’Connor is going to have a lot of interest, Vancouver and Ottawa also among those teams taking a look.

O’Connor was never drafted because he’s a bit of a late-bloomer. A few months younger than Taylor Hall, he was originally eligible for the 2010 Draft but was putting up unremarkable totals in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (not to be confused with the OHL). He had two more mediocre USHL seasons before jumping to the college game.

He was immediately solid for BU in his first season, posting a 0.910 save percentage over 19 games in 2012-13. Those numbers improved to 22 games and a 0.920 save percentage the following year; this season they have increased yet again, with O’Connor playing 30 games and managing a 0.930 save percentage (he’s gone 21-3-4 behind a powerhouse team).

He has size, he has results, he’s free for the taking and so naturally he’s of interest to Edmonton and much of the rest of the NHL. The Oilers, though, have something that a lot of those other teams lack.

An NHL Opportunity

30-Scrivens-11

According to an NHL source, there are 14 teams that can be characterized as having strong interest in signing him. Five of those teams have already offered to play him in the NHL this season in order to burn a year on what would be a two-year entry-level deal.

ESPN’s Craig Custance, March 12

It’s a reasonable bet that Edmonton is one of the handful of teams offering O’Connor a chance to play in the majors immediately. The club has nothing to lose. Even if the results mattered (and at this point, they don’t) the injury to Viktor Fasth means that the backup job has been held by Richard Bachman for a significant period of time, and has also meant that Ben Scrivens has started virtually every game. Scrivens’ performance has been nothing to write home about; in brief cameos Bachman’s has been worse.

The Oilers can make a case that the NHL opportunity in Edmonton extends beyond playing this spring. Beyond 21-year-old Laurent Brossoit, the Oilers lack a legitimate goalie prospect. They have only one goalie under contract for next season, the disappointing Scrivens, and the chance to earn a spot on next season’s NHL depth chart is obvious.

At worst, O’Connor could look to be splitting time with Brossoit in California next season. At best, he could use a late opportunity in 2014-15 to launch his NHL career immediately.

None of this is totally unique to the Oilers. To pick an obvious example, the Arizona Coyotes are in a very similar boat, with an uncertain starter (Mike Smith), no real backup and a lack of legitimate NHL goalie prospects. Other teams will certainly make pitches, and O’Connor will have a number of options. Edmonton’s a good opportunity and the team could certainly use him, but it’s also far from being his only possible destination.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

      • Mason Storm

        A sad, but very true statement. In year 5, 6, 7, or 8 of the rebuild and the Oilers still don’t have a starter, no second line center and are three defenseman short of having a solid top 3. I’d say things aren’t going well

      • bleedingoil

        I think it could hurt. He could come in, play 5 good games and make MacT think he’s solved the goaltending for next year.

        Judging on his history, would anyone put it past MacT to start the year next year with Scrivens and O’Connor in net?

      • Yakcity7

        Yes, throwing an inexperienced kid into net in front of an AHL calibre defence, what could go wrong?

        Hopefully the kids getting better management than the oilers as the absolute shellacking he would face would conceivably ruin his career.
        I hope he has an agent that points out. He needs to go to a team with some history of deloping goalies and at least a passable defence.

  • '68 Fire Chicken

    I think the the fact that this guy went from struggling in the OJHL and USHL, to jumping into the college game and having success immediately says more about the college game then it does the player. I don’t trust college players, which is the reason why I’m completely skeptical of Eichel and Hanifin.

  • Mason Storm

    If I’m Matt O’Connor I would look for a team that would play me in the NHL. I would not want to play for a team the has the worst defence. Oilers would make me look bad and my career would be in jeopardy .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Nobody will succeed in goal here till the team in front of the goaltender can learn to defend. That we all know will never happen with Schultz and Klefbom as the only option as far as top pairing blueliners go.

    Under the incompetent MacTavish, there’s still 2 or even 3 seasons of Wandering in the desert for Oiler faithful ahead. The waves of futility will no doubt continue with these guys at the helm. There would be a glimmer of hope to see Connor McDavid in the lineup for the 82 game death march next season though.

    • TheDiplomat

      I think you have to define success. For example Mason is 8th in the league for a bad Philly team with .925 save percentage. I would suggest a tender could come here and post .920 save percentage or better and be considered a success. Heck, behind a porous defense, .915 would probably be success. Wins aside and so on it is possible. Prior to his last season here, we could’ve said Duby was a success. That was, before MacT threw him under the bus. I’m basing this on save percentage, the facts are I would say after the Souray debacle, the defense in front of DD was worse than today.

      Just my opinion.

  • TheDiplomat

    So why would anybody chose to play in this goalie graveyard if as you say he has at least four other options?

    I’m being serious.If I am his agent I would of course listen to all offers but in the case of my clients best long term interest,the oil are not in play.

  • TheDiplomat

    This same group started the season without a #2 and #3 centre , 1 top four D who they traded and were after Dave Clarkson. Why would anyone have any faith in them.

    If you listen to MacT evaluate his players you would think they were contending for the Stanley Cup

  • Mason Storm

    Oiler fans, will inevitably be disappointed when he signs elsewhere. After all we are talking about a guy who unlike most of us will graduate from university. Not the calling card of middle class Albertans ( thank-you Oil ! ). My apathy is at an all time high, or is it low?

  • Mason Storm

    the oilers now need a bonafide veteran No.1 starting goalie with pedigree, chasing after college prospects and promising them the moon is not the answer. Mactvish has no idea what he is doing, promising bold moves and then when had a chance to get cory schneider he decided to chicken out. Undermining your own starting goaltender at the time before you have replaced him, another bright move. Thinking 2 unproven backups could be the answer when 2 proven NHL starters Jarolsav Halak and Joneas Hiller, were available.

    • bleedingoil

      Schneider would have cost us the Nurse pick, and do a little research on the Halak trades before you post. The Oilers would never have been able to make those trades. As fas as their lastest teams go, they went there as UFAs. If they dont want to sign in EDM, that cant be MacT’s fault.

    • '68 Fire Chicken

      Yeah because Hiller and Halak both publicly stated how upset they were Edmonton didn’t come calling. Must have missed that.

      I am sure MacT tried to get at least Hiller. But he has an OPTION to sign elsewhere. Have you followed the oilers the last little while ? Why would a veteran want to come here when better teams are after you.

      Last of all, the canucks backed out on the Schneider trade as they didn’t want to trade him in the division.

    • Yakcity7

      I’m not sure why this got so many thumbs down. They could have traded the pick that became Nurse, their second (which they traded anyways).

      An elite starting goalie….what would that be like?

      • '68 Fire Chicken

        If you were watching the draft the oilers were shocked at the Schneider trade to the Devils.

        Rumor had it the Oilers offered a lot more. Vancouver backed our as we are a division rival. If we ever trade Hall, Ebs, or Nuge it better be to the east as well.

  • TheDiplomat

    He’s worth a shot. A free asset. His development is a few years in already and we’d be ahead of the Oilers goalie curve – if it doesn’t work out at worse he takes the spot of Tyler Bunz

  • TheDiplomat

    I think a better question is , will he want to sign here? Unless he’s lived under a rock the last 10 years, he’s not gonna want to play for the best management group in sports today.

  • Reasonableness

    If I’m Matt O’Connor I’m looking to get a shot anywhere in the NHL. Look at Andrew Hammond. The guy spent years in other leagues trying to get to the NHL yet didn’t until he was 27. If Matt O’Connor is presented with the opportunity to play in the NHL this year at 23…that’s a massive step forward in his career, no matter what team it’s for

    • '68 Fire Chicken

      I’m glad someone thinks logically in this site’s comment section sometimes the pessimism is overwhelming. It makes sense that a young unproven player would want an opportunity to establish himself and make a name for himself at the pro level, which is pretty much what every hockey player wants. It might not be for the Oil but having a chance to prove yourself at the pro level is enough incentive to most amateur players to play for a bad team… it goes back to the cliche answer of “I’ll play for any team” etc. Now I realize he probably isn’t the godsend that we all hope for but there’s no reason to jump on a guy who plays in college just because he plays in college or even bad mouth his abilities when he isn’t even signed with the team yet and very few of us if any have actually watched him play every game and have a full scouting report on him.

  • TheDiplomat

    Career suicide. After MacT’s treatment of DD—blaming and shaming a good goalie for failures in defense, coaching, and management—if I were a prospect with options, I’d be saying anywhere but Edmonton. It’s not like it’s a one-time thing: we’re already well on our way to repeating the process with Scrivens and Fasth.

  • bleedingoil

    For sure he is a Vezina candidate! The more I watch O’Conor he reminds me of a young Frank Brimsek. Maybe he can pull a Tuggnut like Scrivens did against San Jose last year. Make more saves in a single game then he made the rest of the year. Then give him DiPietro money and term.

  • Reasonableness

    Fire GM or Fire Coach you get to start the rebuild from ground 0 again.

    After 9 years of high draft picks how many homegrown players has Edmonton produced in the NHL.

    Shocking that fans still buy into this formula. If they go another 5 years or so without being in the playoffs will you still be a fan? I’m guessing most will because you know the 2020 Draft is suppose to be a super draft.

  • Reasonableness

    Magic beans indeed. However, we are so drenched in hopelessness that taking a chance on the unknown is at least an attempt to point the arrow northward?

    Really, what harm can it do to have him come to the Oil and actually show some stuff?

    • CMG30

      Gahhh! The Oilers need a proven starter, they cannot afford the risk of ANOTHER tire-fire in net come next November. Lets stop throwing darts in the dark and actually go get someone proven.

      Maybe this O’conner is good, maybe he’s not. Maybe he needs a little seasoning. The point is that when the puck drops in 2015/16 the Oilers need a sure thing in net to try and balance out the multiple Norris trophy caliber players that MacTavish is sure to have stacked the blue line with by then.

  • Reasonableness

    He wont sign in Edmonton. He and his agent aren’t stupid.

    They will note how MacT almost destroyed Dubnyk’s career.

    Careers in Edmonton aren’t made but are put on hold until they leave or destroyed.

  • bleedingoil

    No goalie even greats like Glenn Hall, Martin Brodeur or even Jesus himself in goalie pads can save this team until they get some legitimate defense in front of them. This is a goalie graveyard because you have Nikitin and Schultz giving away 15 high quality chances a game.

  • Craig1981

    Tenders are tricky…..They only have so many spots for them. I won’t promise any spot to him other than burning one year off.

    I hope the Oilers learnt from Dub, that a tender might have a bad year and then recove next year. In the NHL next year I would want and Proven Started, Scrivens backing up, Brossoit starting in the AHL…..That leaves backup in the AHL or ECHL starter.

    Please Oilers quit offering spots based on training camp performance….You know what you have already (this isn’t JR. B)….make players earn an upgrade on half a season of play

  • Craig1981

    The last goaltender with size we developed got publicly called out by his boss and thrown into the trash pile as fast as possible the first time he had a down swing in an otherwise solid career only to re-discover his game the very next season. Imagine that? So he really wasn’t complete garbage despite years of proven service prior. Huh.

    There’s a lesson to be had here for young collegiate O’Connor and it begins and ends with him being unable to trust a single word or action made by MacTavish. I wish the kid well… well away from here.

  • Rdubb

    Ok Willis, you basically said in your article that Scrivens has sucked for most of the season, but especially since the injury to Fasth, and when Bachman has got a chance to play, he has sucked even more, is this how I read your article?
    If that is the case, and I tend to agree with you 100%, then why in the heck doesn’t the Oilers brass send Bachman down to OKC to get some playing and more importantly, to see where Laurent Brossoit stands. Perhaps he is one of these guys who has so-so numbers in the minors, but once elevated to “the show”, he shines, and shines brightly. Isn’t he worth a look in Edmonton, especially with the poor play of Scrivens.
    Having Scrivens allow so many week goals has to be a total downer on all the Oiler skaters. Every time he lets one of those in that a Bantam A goalie would stop, you can just see how everyone on the ice slumps their shoulders. If this were to happen every once in a blue moon, then no big deal, but when it is starting to happen once, twice a game, well, that’s pretty darn hard to come back from, especially when your the Oilers and your talent level really doesn’t get passed the top 2 lines.
    Perhaps if Ben didn’t slid around on his knees so much and stood up he may not allow so many easy goals in, but if you watch Ben play, he is always sliding on his knees, even when the puck is in the corner. Then they’ll make a few passes, he’s still slipping and sliding around and then bang, a one-timer! How can he get set when he’s on his knees sliding about? He can’t! Not too mention that he is also starting to go down before the shooter even shoots…
    One of two things; either the Oilers goalie coach doesn’t see this as a problem, or he does and Ben just won’t listen…sound like anyone else? Dubby maybe? And what happened to him, he couldn’t keep a job in the NHL, started listening to coaches, and now he is on a HOT STREAK>>>Are we going to have to watch this all over again, have the Oilers trade or release Scrivens, have him go from team to team, not being able to even be a 3rd stringer, and then come back with a vengeance after opening his ears and listening to what his faults are and correcting them????

  • I’d cautious here. We beat out all teams in the Justin Schultz sweepstakes by promising him a starting position and PP time and hasn’t that worked out well. Schultz should have spent at least 2 years in the AHL learning how to play defence before he played a single NHL game. I hope our idiot GM doesn’t promise this unknown entity the moon just to get him signed and show the fans he’s on the job.

  • Yakcity7

    I am fine with them going after this guy it cant hurt. If they dont make a change at the top it wont matter if we can find the love child of Patrick Roy, Marty Brodeur or George Veznia