Drew O’Connor ’22 makes Pittsburgh Penguins taxi squad
On Jan. 11, Drew O’Connor ’22 was called up to the Pittsburgh Penguins taxi squad — a major step toward professional play for the former Big Green breakout hockey star. O’Connor left the Dartmouth hockey program after his sophomore season, signing a contract with the Penguins in March.
The taxi squad is a new, COVID-19-related addition to the NHL for the 2021 season. Each team can select a maximum of six players to practice separately from the usual 23-man roster while still traveling with the team. As a taxi squad member, O’Connor said he has to be ready to play with the Penguins at any position if someone on the roster is injured or contracts COVID-19.
“It's just being able to kind of fill any role,” O’Connor said. “… I think that suits my game well because I try to be a well-rounded player [and] be able to play in [different] situations.”
As a standout forward during his time with the Big Green, O’Connor became the first Dartmouth hockey player ever to lead the ECAC in goals scored during his sophomore year. In his final season, he was a unanimous First Team All-Ivy League selection, and he became only the fourth player in Dartmouth hockey history to win Ivy League Player of the Year.
In his remarkable final season at Dartmouth, O’Connor helped his team to multiple surprise upsets, including defeating No. 2 Cornell University in early December and sparking a comeback win against Boston University. He led the Big Green that season in several categories, including goals and points.
O’Connor’s talent was apparent to his teammates from the beginning of his Dartmouth career.
“He came in, and I didn't really know what to expect,” teammate Brendan Demler ’21 said. “… He’s very humble, very down to earth, didn't have an ego, just came in and strove to make his game better — and that's exactly what he did.”
Longtime Dartmouth hockey coach Bob Gaudet, who retired last year, similarly commended O’Connor and said he felt his former player was meant for a professional career.
“It is only a matter of time before he gets into his first NHL game,” Gaudet said. “… He's a big, strong kid; he’s really skilled, and it was a pleasure to get to know him while I was at Dartmouth.” Demler praised O’Connor for his energy on the ice and his ability to open up opportunities for the rest of the team.
Although he only played for the Big Green for two years, O’Connor attributed much of his success as a professional hockey player and his style of play to his coaches and teammates at Dartmouth. He credited Gaudet for turning him into “a more complete player” and his teammates for providing strong competition.
Since signing his contract with Pittsburgh, O’Connor — who still intends to graduate from Dartmouth at a later date — has been preparing for his time in the pros with daily training and a professional stint in Norway. According to O’Connor, this training helped prepare him for the elevated size, speed and skill that he has seen among teammates in training camp with the Penguins.
O’Connor suspects that he was able to make the taxi squad because of the flexibility and fast-paced approach he practiced at Dartmouth.
“At Dartmouth I was playing in all situations, playing penalty kill [and] power play, so I think that's something that prepared me well and gave me the opportunity to be successful in a few different situations,” O’Connor said. “[I have been] able to use my size and speed a little bit — to use my offensive skill set a little bit — and thankfully they thought I did well enough to be on the taxi squad.”
O’Connor’s new role as a taxi squad member puts him one step closer to playing for the Penguins.
“It's a good opportunity I have here being a part of the team, traveling with the team,” O’Connor said. “… You’ve just got to be ready to play at any moment … so it's an exciting time, and I’m happy to be here for sure.”