An outstanding season by Steelers defencemen Ben O’Connor has booked him a flight to play in the Kontinental Hockey League with some of the world’s best players.
Recording a team leading 52 points for the Sheffield Steelers, while racking up 6 points in 5 games within Team GB’s gold medal IIHF Budapest campaign has made O’Connor a hot topic outside of the usual EIHL circles.
Kazakhstan based Barys Astana recently signed O’Connor to a one-year contract, terminating his current contract with the Steelers on good terms, and making him the first British player to be signed in the KHL. O’Connor now joins a select club of British players to ever play outside of the UK.
Barys Astana finished 10th in the Eastern Conference of the KHL, while boasting an impressive roaster with a comined 2,250 KHL and 193 NHL games played respectively. O’Connor is unarguably joining one of the best leagues in the world that boasts players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Having already played four seasons in Kazakhstan previously in his career, O’Connor has now reached the pinnacle in what he describes as “the chance of a lifetime”.
However, we may not have seen O’Connor’s final game in a Steeler’s jersey. With his father previously playing for the team before taking on the role of commercial manager and Ben has publicly said that he doesn’t think he’s played his last game for the Steelers. It seems more than likely he will return further along his career.
Alongside the highly anticipated 2018 NHL Draft that’s fast approaching, with speculation surrounding Liam Kirk’s potential to be drafted to the NHL. Does this signing prove that British hockey is now firmly on the radar of other leagues?
“This is the beginning of some big moves for British players, I don’t think I’ll be the last person to be leaving. It’s about time that we do get noticed, we are capable of playing in bigger better leagues.” O’Connor said when speaking to the EIHL.
For the future and continued improvement of the EIHL lets hope so, but for now Sheffield must try and find a replacement to fill some big shoes.