The Tampa Bay Lightning have a knack of giving small, undrafted guys a chance to make waves in the NHL. When you think of these guys, you don’t expect them to take hard hits and still get in a position to score. You likely think their career’s over once someone hits them. Martin St. Louis took it upon himself to show critics years ago that size is nothing more than a number. Today, Cory Conacher uses that same criticism to drive him.
Originally undrafted out of Canisius College, Conacher just wanted an opportunity to prove himself. The Lightning gave him that, signing him to a one-year contract with their AHL affiliate, Norfolk, in July 2011. He then put up eye-popping numbers early on and was rewarded by being offered a two-year, two-way NHL contract midway through last season.
While satisfying, Conacher knew there was still work to be done so he kept going, winning the 2012 AHL MVP award and a Calder Cup along the way. With the NHL locked out, he began 2012-13′ with the teams new minor league affiliate in Syracuse before reaching his ultimate goal late last week.
I understand we’re only three games into the season, but Conacher doesn’t look at all out of place. He’s a rookie, and has already made Lightning history with a point in each of his first three games, helping the team to a 2-1 start.
Through the first three games of his NHL career Conacher has five points, good enough to share the team lead with St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. He also scored his first goal in his first career game Jan. 19 against the highly skilled Washington Capitals and had the eventual game-winner yesterday versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the Lightning’s lone loss, Monday against the New York Islanders, Conacher added two more points (both assists) to help aid a near comeback. Obviously, playing alongside veteran stars like Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Stamkos and St. Louis has to help but there’s no arguing he’s making good things happen.
Conacher has all the tools needed to be successful in this league. He’s quick and fearless, always getting up and quickly back in the play after being hit. Many, including Conacher himself, think this fearlessness comes from battling diabetes, something he’s had to do all his life. His biggest asset on the ice though is his ability to crash the net, with the hopes of cashing in on some juicy rebounds. Playing in Tampa Bay, he may not get the hype others do, but he has the potential to make this team even more dangerous than they already are.
The Lightning already look much improved this season with Conacher in the mix. He’s logged a decent amount of quality minutes and seen some time on the power play, where he scored his first career NHL goal. To tell the honest truth, Cory Conacher’s making the most of his opportunity to play with the big boys.