Highly-touted college free-agent Matt O’Connor chose to sign with the Ottawa Senators, giving them another potential goaltender of the future.
The Senators agreed to terms with the Boston University standout on a two-year entry-level contract worth US$925,000 annually with the maximum signing bonus possible. O’Connor expects to play next season with Binghamton of the American Hockey League to adjust to professional hockey.
“I’m not one to come into an organization and demand games or expect promises because the bottom line is it’s about stopping the puck,” O’Connor said on a conference call Saturday. “I think that’s a big opportunity for me to essentially develop my game and go where I’m ready.
“As a goalie you want to go when you’re ready and you want the organization to have you play when you’re ready, and I think I’ve got a two-year window to develop as the best goalie I can be.”
Inside that two-year window, the Senators have some goaltending decisions to make. Veterans Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner are under contract for three and two more seasons, respectively, and second-half star Andrew Hammond is an unrestricted free agent.
O’Connor is a blue-chip NHL prospect at the age of 23 after going 25-4-4 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in his junior season at Boston University. But he and the organization realize he needs some seasoning.
“We are confident that under the tutelage of our player development staff, Matt will have the opportunity to develop into an outstanding NHL goaltender,” general manager Bryan Murray said.
Ottawa already has three NHL goaltenders presently, assuming Hammond’s 20-1-2 performance to spark the Senators’ improbable run to the playoffs qualifies him for that distinction. If Hammond re-signs, the club is expected to trade either Anderson or Lehner, with plenty of teams — like the Edmonton Oilers — in need of a starter.
Signing O’Connor gives Murray “some options” because it’s more goaltending depth, according to assistant GM Randy Lee.
“As we know Andrew Hammond’s still not signed yet, so that’s another domino that has to fall and to see which way that goes,” Lee said. “But at least it gives Bryan a card to play if he wishes to do so.”
Because he’s older, O’Connor isn’t expected to need as long as a teenage draft pick to reach the NHL. That’s part of what made him so sought after, with many NHL teams putting in offers.
O’Connor’s final four were the Senators, Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers. He wound up choosing the team that invited him to his first development camp in 2011.
“It is a little serendipity because they were the first team, Ottawa, to really see NHL potential in me,” O’Connor said. “Goaltending is not an issue here in Ottawa, and I think that’s a good thing because you want to go someplace where they can develop goalies.”
Scouts said O’Connor progressed significantly during his three years with the Terriers after playing two seasons in the United States Hockey League.
“He’s really done a good job at improving his rebound control, his stance overall,” ISS Hockey scout and former NHL goaltender Phil Myre said in a recent interview. “He’s been able to gain more control in his positioning and in his stance, rebounds and movement.”
O’Connor helped the Terriers reach the Frozen Four but in the national title game allowed a back-breaking goal from the red line on a puck he dropped and went in, and BU lost to Providence 4-3. The Toronto native’s body of work overshadowed that gaffe.
“That’s been a huge growing moment for me as a goalie,” O’Connor said. “As a goalie you’re either the donkey or the hero and I think to face that adversity it’s made me a lot stronger as a person and as a goalie.”
May 9, 2015