It’s that time of year again. With preseason games now underway around the league, many prospects are getting an opportunity to show the coaches what they can do in hopes of making the final cut. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, one player who’s impressed nearly everyone thus far during training camp is Brett Connolly.
Drafted sixth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly made the leap straight from juniors to the Lightning two seasons ago (2011-12′). Looking back, this probably wasn’t a great move considering he didn’t play well down the stretch. In fact, he tallied only four goals and 15 points in 68 games that year.
More alarming, however, was the number of times he turned over the puck. His minus-9 rating pointed to him being a defensive liability, causing then-head coach Guy Boucher to bench him at various points during the season.
Because of that, Connolly started the lockout-shortened 2012-13′ season playing for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Once all the papers were signed and camps began in January, however, he was not part of the group invited to take part. Extremely difficult for a young kid to swallow.
Connolly didn’t let that snub affect his game though, posting 63 points and a plus-19 rating in 71 games with Syracuse. That earned him a small five-game stint with the Lightning, and though he didn’t fare wonderfully (one point, minus-3 rating) one could see he was more confident when handling the puck.
That confidence is on full display now, as Connolly had two goals in his first preseason action Thursday night against the Nashville Predators. He also had two goals, one of which was a game-winner, during the team’s two scrimmages Monday and Tuesday. Of course, being placed on a line alongside two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner Steven Stamkos has to help.
Either way, Connolly is focused on cracking the Lightning’s opening day roster. And if he keeps playing at such a high level, there’s little doubt he will.