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Tucson Roadrunners: Conor Garland gaining confidence, Kevin Connauton rolls through, and top line leadership

Is this young gun on the verge of breaking out for the Roadrunners?

NHL: SEP 30 Preseason - Coyotes at Sharks Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tucson Roadrunners are in an interesting spot right now. In their two home games to close out 2016, there was very little production from anywhere besides the top line, resulting in two regulation losses to the worst team in the division, San Antonio.

One player that is looking to change that is 20-year-old Conor Garland.

Garland hasn’t had the most productive of seasons (2 goals, 4 assists on 45 shots in 25 games), but two of those points came on the team’s most recent California road trip.

“He makes a lot of plays,” defenseman Kevin Connauton said of Garland. “I think he’s going to start putting up the points here pretty soon.”

“I think for him, a lot of his game has to do with confidence, and I think he’s starting to gain a lot more confidence with the puck,” right wing Stefan Fournier explained. “He’s starting to come into his own, and I’m glad for him.”

“He’s just more confident with the puck,” defenseman Jarred Tinordi added about Garland. “He’s a skill player and a playmaker, and no one’s out there expecting him to run guys over or anything like that. When you play that kind of game it all stems from confidence.”

“Once he has a good game or two, maybe he’ll get more looks,” continued Tinordi. “Maybe it’s on the power play, maybe it’s somewhere else where he can get a little more ice, and that’s good for him. I think he could take that and use that. Once he gets a little more ice, he needs to realize that the things I’m doing I need to keep doing instead of trying to change his game too much.”

After dominating juniors like he did the past two seasons, Garland is a bit frustrated with his lack of production, especially with the amount of shots he’s been able to take.

“I’m just trying to get better and learn every day,” he said. “Just trying to get better in all aspects of the game and help the team win. There’s a lot to improve on.”

“He’s got a lot to learn,” head coach Mark Lamb added. “He needs to learn to play away from the puck. That’s what he needs to do to be a professional hockey player.”

The last two seasons, Garland led the CHL in scoring, posting 129 and 128 points in consecutive seasons. But the AHL is a different animal, especially for someone his size (5-foot-8, 163 pounds) and with his lack of experience in the pro game.

“It’s a tough league to come into, the American League,” said Fournier. “There’s games every second night almost, and the competition’s tough. There’s not really any nights off, so obviously there’s an adjustment period at the beginning of the season.”

“It’s a good league,” Connauton echoed. “You can’t ever underestimate this league and it’s got a lot of good players and a lot of guys that are going to play up in the NHL in the future, or have in the past, or are right around the corner here, so it’s competitive.”

“A guy like him, he’s all offense,” coach Lamb added. “You just led the league two years in a row, that’s all you’ve done is created offense and this league’s just too good. You have to play a complete game and he’s making strides in that area, but it’s hard for some guys. It’s going to take a lot more time.”

“I remember when I came in at 20 years old, and we had a young team too, but there’s veteran guys and you learn really quickly,” Tinordi tacked on. “This team’s better than the first team I played on when I was a rookie. It’s not junior hockey, so if some of those young guys can follow the lead of some of the veteran guys we have here, we’ll be good.”

Depth Despair

The Roadrunners have been very successful this year, and have been able to cash in on a lot of power play opportunities, but if that’s shut down, this team has almost no offense, which is a huge issue moving into the middle part of the season.

“We can’t ask for anything more from those guys,” Lamb said about depending on the line consisting of Christian Fischer and Chris Mueller. “We need some secondary scoring, and we’re not getting it. All (the opponents) really have to do is hone in our power play and really shut our power play down.”

If you throw in Kyle Wood, and combine the numbers of Brendan Perlini and Laurent Dauphin (who essentially traded places with the Coyotes), that’s four players above 20 points. Only two other active players (Jamie McBain and Michael Bunting) are in double-digits in points, and the top four account for nearly half of the Roadrunners’ 227 total points this year.

“If you’re going to play like that and have a one-line offensive team, you really have to play a strong defensive game,” added Lamb. “The other lines can’t give up anything.”

Tinordi thinks that this team has a good chemistry about it because everyone knows their role even if the scoring isn’t there.

“The one thing I like about this team is that everyone’s got a role to play,” explained Tinordi. “We have a great top line, but all the way down to our bottom line, I think we’ve got skill, size, and grit, and that’s what you need if you want to be a successful team.”

“You need guys playing their roles, understanding their roles, and going out there and doing their job every night.”

Connauton’s Cameo

For the two home games, the Arizona Coyotes had sent down Kevin Connauton on a conditioning assignment, who had played in just nine games at the NHL level. He was able to come in and score a goal and assist on two others before heading back up to the NHL.

“It’s hard to come down for two games and you haven’t played,” Coach Lamb said of Connauton’s performance. “We play the same system, but you haven’t played in games so it’s hard to get in there, but I thought he did fine. He went out there, got his reps, and he’ll go back up there and hopefully help out there.”

“It was a little tiring in that first period on the back-to-back,” Connauton said after Saturday’s loss. “When you don’t play consistently, you get out of the swing of things, so it was nice to get a couple games in and move on from there.”

Coming in with pretty much no exposure to the Tucson club prior to this stint, Connauton had a fresh perspective on what was happening in that TCC locker room.

“I think the guys work really hard,” he explained of what he saw. “Everyone seems like they’re out here trying to win, trying to compete, so it’s a good group of guys in there, and I think they’re going to have a lot of success moving forward.”

Anthony DeAngelo, who has played in nine games for Tucson this year, was suspended for three games for physical abuse of an official, so Connauton may be playing a bit with the parent club right away.

“Just pick up where I left off,” Connauton said about going back to Glendale. “Get some good practices in here, and just wait my turn until I’m back in the lineup and go from there.”

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