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When the Coyotes traded goaltender Darcy Kuemper to the Colorado Avalanche last summer, there was so much consternation about a franchise favorite leaving town, and so much excitement about landing a 2022 first-round pick (a return that few analysts thought was possible) that it was easy to forget about the other key piece in the trade.
It was that much easier when that other piece made little more than a cameo appearance early in the 2021-22 season with a team and coaching staff that were still trying to sort through all of the new faces while compensating for a decided drop in talent.
Conor Timmins was appearing in just his sixth game as a Coyote, and just the 39th game of his injury-riddled NHL career when Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas ended his season with a hard hit in the second period of a 5-3 loss in Sunrise on Oct. 25.
“His leg just kind of came into the outside of my knee,” Timmins said. “I pretty much knew right away that something was wrong, and then we got the scans once I flew back to Scottsdale and we figured out it was serious.”
Doctors told Timmins right then that it would require 10 months of rehabilitation.
“Obviously, it was tough because you never want to be done for the season,” Timmins said. “It was a long, long time and I definitely had to put in a lot of work. There were some days that were harder than others.”
With Timmins hobbling around on crutches right after the surgery, he leaned on his family for help. His mom, Sam, and his sister, Shannon, came down to the Valley from Colorado to help out with groceries, cleaning and cooking.
“All the stuff that you take for granted became a pretty big task for him,” his dad Dan, said.
But Timmins never needed much emotional support.
“He’s really focused and he’s really even keeled,” Dan Timmins said. “It was just like, ‘What am I doing? What do I have to do today to get better?’ He kind of approached it like that and that was kind of the sole focus.”
While most players chose to escape the Valley’s scorching summer heat, Timmins stayed in Arizona for all but one week in the offseason, working with Coyotes rehabilitation coordinator Mark Packwood.
“I got pretty used to the heat, so I didn’t mind it too much,” he said. “I just spent it rehabbing and working out and golfing with whoever was willing to play and brave the heat.”
Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel were not in Timmins’ foursome, however.
“They’re a little too good for me,” he said, laughing.
About one month ago, and right on schedule with the doctors’ projections, Timmins, 23, felt like himself on and off the ice. Since then, he has been taking part in informal skates with teammates at the Ice Den Scottsdale. He expects to be ready for training camp, which begins with reporting day on Sept. 21. That’s good news for the Coyotes, who want to see what their big, right-handed defensive prospect can do in a bigger role that he was only just warming to last season with a career-high 17:45 of average ice time.
“I think there’s still opportunity here and I just want to put [the injury] behind me; focus on what’s coming ahead of me,” he said. “I’m still confident in where my game is. I think there will be a small adjustment period because I missed a lot of time, but I think I’ll be ready to go for the season and I’m looking forward to it.”
Despite the injury and the lack of playing time with his teammates, Timmins said he is comfortable in his Arizona surroundings.
“It was a very interesting year, last year, because we had so many new guys coming in so I wasn’t alone in that process of getting to know new teammates, new systems and a new city,” he said. “I was still around the team the entire year so I got to be a part of that and bonded with all my teammates and had a good relationship with the coaches. I feel comfortable coming into the second year. I know everyone really well and I know our systems.”
One of the few advantages of an injury is that it allows you to work on other areas of the body that would not otherwise benefit from so much development time. Dan said he sees a lot more muscle on Conor’s upper body and that is evident when you talk to Timmins.
“Conor wants to be out there playing so to have to go through that long of a rehab was pretty frustrating for him,” Dan said. “He liked Colorado, but he was really excited to come to Arizona just because of the opportunity. He knew it was a younger and rebuilding situation and he was really excited to be part of it.
“I went out to see him for a couple of days in June, and he was able to get home for five days two weeks ago, but other than that, we didn’t get to see him. There was a bigger issue of being ready for the season and that was his number one focus and we were really understanding and supportive of that. That was his vision this summer. It was definitely the right call for him.”
Top photo of Conor Timmins via USA TODAY Sports
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