It has to be frustrating to be Chris Conner right now.
The Pittsburgh Penguins forward underwent surgery to repair a broken hand in the beginning of January, sidelining him for 6-8 weeks. The hand injury led to the Penguins claiming Taylor Pyatt, who has been a staple on the fourth line, off of waivers. For the last week or so, Conner had been practicing with the team and was getting prepared to make his return.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said on Sunday that Conner was ready to return and most likely would be in the lineup against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night, but after the Penguins’ 3-2 victory on Monday, Bylsma announced that Conner had broken his foot.
How, you ask? By blocking a shot in practice.
Connor has missed the last 22 games and has had to watch the Penguins succeed without him in the lineup, but the hardest part for him must be watching the front office claim Pyatt and then trade for forwards Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak right before the trade deadline. Now he’s faced with another month and a half of watching, recovering and hoping.
Conner is far from a superstar in the NHL — he only has five points in the 19 games he’s played this season — but he is a role player who understands that every game could be his last in the NHL. He has the kind of work ethic and tenacity that you want in a fourth line player.
Conner is 30 years old, but has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL his entire career. Even if he gets healthy before the playoffs, there might not be room for him to crack the lineup. He could end up getting a game or two per series to switch things up in the roster, which is what Tanner Glass has done in past years, but Conner knows that the regular season was his chance to make a name for himself and solidify his position as an everyday player.
Now, due to some bad luck, Conner will have to wait it out.
I really hope that Conner comes back and finds a way to crack the lineup. He’s been through a lot in his career and deserves a chance to shine when it matters most. It’s not like the bottom-six forwards have been scoring without him.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports; Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow