In November of last year, Conor Timmins had knee surgery after an injury sustained in a game in late October in his sixth game of the season. He played in two NHL games for the Coyotes this season in October, and left with an “upper body injury” in game two against the Bruins. He hasn’t played in the NHL since, but was cleared to play on November 8, when he was sent to the AHL on a 14-day conditioning loan which expired on November 23.

That’s his recent history, but the long story of his injury-interrupted career starts in 2018 in the OHL finals. He was hit in the second last game, suffered a severe concussion, but went back into the game and played in the final game of the series that saw the Greyhounds lose to Hamilton.

His recovery from that concussion was not swift. He did not play at all in 2018-2019 as he worked with the newly formed AHL team of the Colorado Avalanche in Loveland, not far from Denver. Colorado had drafted him in 2017 with a pick that’s a first-rounder now, and he was in place to receive the best medical care and development the future champions had to offer. Their move to convert an ECHL into an AHL team on their doorstep and get away from the affiliation that hadn’t been working for them was one of the pieces of the puzzle that changed the Avs from a team with great players to a great team.

In 2019-2020, Timmins played two NHL games as well as 40 in the AHL, with some minor time off for injuries. He had two NHL playoff games in the bubble in Edmonton, and then suffered an undisclosed injury. He was ready to go by January for the start of the 2020-2021 season, and played 31 NHL games and six in the AHL. He also appeared in 10 NHL playoff games where he had no points.

That summer, the Avalanche traded him to Arizona in the Darcey Kuemper deal, and things flew off the rails for him again with a serious knee injury courtesy of Radko Gudas:

If that scattershot career can be stitched together and put through an analysis machine, you get something like this:

Any player now with a history like that is a project. And he’s one with a little less name recognition that Jakob Chychrun, who Arizona want a lot more than an AHL player in trade.

However, Timmins is a project that has to stay on the NHL roster because there’s too many teams who would take a chance on him with a waiver claim now. He’s only just 24, and he was a first-round pick. He also had some good press before Gudas got a hold of him. That was Arizona’s thinking when he came off the conditioning stint, and their packed to the gills roster had only one waiver exempt defender, Janis Moser, who they apparently want in the NHL. They also, unlike most teams, have a lot of right-shooting defenders.

This is a big change in opinion one year and one knee surgery on from 2021.

Timmins could be more than just a prospect for the Coyotes. General Manager Bill Armstrong has already referred to him as an NHL player with a “big ceiling” who could be a top-four defenseman.

Lines and defenseman pairings can always change during training camp, but on Sunday Timmins was teamed with Jakob Chychrun in practice. Chychrun is the top returning player for the Coyotes this season.

“For me I was just excited. It’s a fresh start for myself and a new opportunity,” Timmins said. “Obviously I’ve seen what they’re doing here this summer and it’s going to be exciting to be able to build this from the ground up with these guys.”

Everyone else loved him too:

Timmins played mainly for the Avalanche’s AHL team, the Colorado Eagles, in 2019-2020, then played a handful of games with them last season. Tucson Roadrunners assistant coach Steve Potvin didn’t see much of Timmins last season, but in camp he’s been impressed by Timmins’ play.

“He catches my eye all the time on the offensive part of it,” Potvin said. “What he’s doing on the ice with the puck, he’s looked great.”

Timmins also got an endorsement from Tourigny.

“I’m really happy about him. He’s one of the guys I’m excited to see play in the (preseason) game,” Tourigny said. “He’s making really good strides. I like his compete level. He’s playing with confidence right now in practice.”

He gets to prove himself on the Leafs now, and we’ll see how this goes because there’s never been a bigger gift-wrapped opportunity to step right into the lineup, bump old teammate Mac Hollowell back to the AHL and outplay someone — be it Jamie Benn, if he’s even healthy, or Justin Holl.

Timmins is expected to join the Leafs in Minnesota today for practice.