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This Week's Question: Training Camp Impressions
Share the biggest impressions made by a Lightning player during this preseason.
There's plenty to preseason developments to be enthused about, be it the impact and chemistry a healthy, reinvigorated Ryan Malone has had and displayed skating alongside Steven Stamkos (who's played with an intensity and physicality that would be applauded if it were the playoffs), Valtteri Filppula living up to his billing as a strong-skating and steady two-way pivot blessed with immense stick-handling ability and creativity in the offensive third or Radko Gudas picking up where he left off while apparently having earned a bigger role as Matt Carle's partner to start the season. Yet, I'm most impressed with Brett Connolly who, at 21 years old, looks leaps and bounds ahead of where he was two years ago. Once a gifted perimeter player battling habits formed by years as the go-to guy on his juniors squad, his progression as a professional, in terms of his physique and on-ice both as a defender and attacker, is quite evident and he's put on quite a show in camp and in the preseason matches he's played. He's been fun to watch and no doubt has made a very strong case for himself sticking around past the final cuts.
It's hard to ignore what Brett Connolly has done on the scoresheet this preseason - both in camp scrimmages and games. What may be more impressive, however, is his demeanor while doing so. Connolly is the poster child for good and not-so-good development styles. The Lightning had little choice but to keep him with the big club after the draft because of the situation he faced going back to his junior team, Prince George. A trade from the Cougars really wasn't much of an option either as Connolly was the team captain and was a native of Prince George. No marketing department would jettison their greatest draw. After spending a year with Jon Cooper and Rob Zettler in the AHL last year, Connolly is a completely different person - not to mention player. He has a healthy air of confidence and professionalism about him. His maturity is as impressive as his goals.
I think a lot of people will take this opportunity to mention a player who has been something of a pleasant surprise, someone who has stood out when it wasn't expected of them. But for me the player who has made the biggest impression is none other than Steven Stamkos, arguably the face of the franchise and unquestionably one of the most talented players in the NHL. The specific moment he made that impression was midway through the exhibition game against Nashville last week at the Forum when he made a huge open-ice hit that upended the Predators skater and separated him from his stick. A player of Stamkos' stature making a play like that in a game that doesn't even count makes it impossible for anyone else to think they can afford to give anythingess than their best effort.
A number of Lightning players have looked very impressive since the team’s preseason opened last week; Brett Connolly, in particular, has looked phenomenal. In just two contests, the young forward has tallied three goals and compiled a very impressive plus-minus rating. Looking beyond the stats, it’s abundantly clear that he is a different player now than he was at this time last year.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Brett has managed to create chemistry and generate opportunities with everyone he’s played with since the Lightning’s training camp started.
That's a special quality. Simply put, he looks poised and ready for fulltime duty with the Lightning this year. If he can continue to play well at both ends of the ice for the remainder of the preseason, it will be incredibly hard for the Lightning’s coaching staff to leave him off the opening night roster. He’s been that good.
Brett Connolly showed up for camp this year and has so far put on a clinic about how to make a case for playing on an NHL team. This was why he was the #6 draft pick in 2010, the abilities he’s flashed and the scoring touch he’s shown. Was he humbled by his season in Syracuse or stabilized after a rocky 2011-12? Maybe the more apt term would be “Cooper-ized”, motivated by his head coach in Syracuse (and now in Tampa).
It’s still only preseason, it’s only exhibition play and the games should get tougher now that roster cuts have happened league-wide, but Brett’s play so far has been a statement of his intentions to be a member of the team on opening night.