Co-Ivy Player of the Year O'Connor signs with Pittsburgh Penguins
Drew O'Connor signed a two-year NHL deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins after leading the ECAC with 21 goals this season.
As the sports world shuts down across the country due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the success of Drew O'Connor ’22 provides some positive news for Dartmouth athletics. A dominating presence in Thompson Arena these past two winters, the Dartmouth sophomore recently signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. If not for the NHL shutdown due to COVID-19, O’Connor would have finished off this season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the Penguins’ amateur affiliate team in the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout contract. Instead, once the outbreak dies down, O’Connor said he will likely head directly to Pittsburgh for the regular season, though the situation remains fluid.
“Throughout the season, I wasn’t completely sure whether I was going to want to leave school or not yet,” O’Connor said. “It was obviously a very difficult decision because Dartmouth is such a great place, but I think the opportunity with the Penguins was something that was tough to pass up at the time, and I’m very excited about it.”
A powerful forward and dynamic goal scorer, O’Connor scored 21 goals on the season, becoming the first Dartmouth player in program history to finish a season leading all Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey players in overall goals between conference and non-conference play. His scoring outburst placed him fifth in the nation in goals scored this season.
In the team’s media release, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford applauded O’Connor for his strong year at Dartmouth and said he was happy that O’Connor could help the NHL club “sooner rather than later.”
O’Connor was recently recognized for his achievements with numerous accolades this season, including his selection as the fourth player in Dartmouth history to win the Ivy League Co-Player of the Year. After leading the team in goals (21), points (33), power play points (10), power play goals (7), short handed goals (1) and shots on goal per game (4.74), he was also unanimously selected for a spot on the All-Ivy League First Team. Additionally, he was the first Dartmouth player in 12 years to secure a place on the All-ECAC Hockey First Team.
“It feels good to be recognized,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, we would’ve liked to win a little bit more than have the personal achievements or whatever, but it’s always a good feeling when you get recognized like that.”
Head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said he felt that the ECAC snubbed O’Connor of a spot on the All-Conference Rookie Team despite being the leading rookie scorer in the conference. Gaudet added that he was happy to see O’Connor earn more recognition this season.
“He’s a killer goal scorer,” Gaudet said. “I was really pleased that he garnered the attention and got some accolades this year. That’s not what it’s about for him, he’s a good team player, but it was nice to see the recognition … I’m pleased that the vehicle to help him showcase and help him develop was Dartmouth College.”
When asked about his high-scoring season this year, O’Connor credited his teammates.
“I played with some great players,” O’Connor said. “I played with [Quin Foreman ’21] pretty much the entire season, and I think we played really well together. He definitely was a huge help with that. Building off last season, I had the goal to pass the amount of goals I had last year, and I was able to achieve that because of my teammates.”
During his stellar second season, O’Connor produced countless memorable moments, including his first-career hat trick in a home game against Union College, a pair of goals 47 seconds apart that sparked a comeback win at home against Boston University and a game-winning goal in overtime against Princeton University.
“Going back and playing at Princeton the last couple years is always exciting because I have a ton of family come out to those games,” O’Connor, who is originally from New Jersey, said. “I think those games always stand out.”
O’Connor began contributing to the Big Green quickly after arriving at the College. In his first game for Dartmouth, O’Connor had a three-point game against Harvard, including a breakaway goal in the second frame. He didn’t slow down from there. For the season, O’Connor led the team in goals, was second in the nation in goals by a rookie and was awarded a spot on the All-Ivy League Second Team, landing higher than any other Ivy League rookie.
“He played all facets of the game — just a dominant force in the league obviously — but I think the thing we’ll all miss the most about [O’Connor] on the team is outside of the rink or off the ice,” captain Brendan Demler ’21 said. “He was just a smiley kid in the locker room, brought a good attitude to the rink, and I think at the end of the day that’s what you’ll always miss most about your teammates: not what they’re doing on the ice but what they’re doing off the ice and that camaraderie.”
O’Connor echoed Demler’s sentiments about the bonds he has created on the team and will miss when he leaves.
“The guys are incredible,” O’Connor said. “It’s a great atmosphere; it’s super fun to be around all the guys, and the coaches as well have been super helpful with everything and they’re great to be around. Going to the rink everyday and hanging out with your best friends — that’s going to be the toughest part, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Making the jump to the NHL in the middle of a collegiate career is a difficult transition, but Coach Gaudet said he believes that if anyone can do it while also finishing a Dartmouth degree, it’s O’Connor.
“He’s a really good kid and a really good player, and I’m glad we had the chance to work with him,” Gaudet said. “He was fun to watch; I hope the fans enjoyed him. He really is a special talent, and I just wish him all the best in professional hockey … we’ll miss him for sure.”