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Camp Stories To Watch: Making the Jump

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Cory Conacher had a pretty impressive showing at last year's training camp prior to the start of the 2011-12 season.

Now, with one full year of professional hockey under his belt, Conacher's showing at this year's fall showcase promises to be even stronger.

With general manager Steve Yzerman having gone on the record to say that he would leave one or two forward spots open during camp in order to allow some of the club's top prospects to vie for a chance at cracking the NHL roster this season, Conacher perhaps, is about to do just that.

"For us young guys, it's all about taking full advantage of the opportunities we're given," Conacher said. "Obviously a lot of us are coming off a strong year in the AHL this past season, so I think many of us are hoping that success carries over into the fall and that we'll all have a chance to play in Tampa some day."

Conacher fell nowhere short of accomplishing all of what the American Hockey League had to offer last season.

Cory Conacher (center) is one of several young Bolts who will fight for a roster spot during training camp
He brought home the league's goal scoring title, notching 39 tallies in 75 regular-season games, earned league MVP honors, then still managed to help lead Tampa Bay's top minor league affiliate in Norfolk to a Calder Cup championship.

But if there is one knock on Conacher to be found, it's that he didn't do it alone.

Also playing prominent roles for Norfolk last season, and specifically throughout the postseason, were forwards Alex Killorn and Pierre-Cedric Labrie, both of whom are expected to challenge Conacher, and perhaps also JT Brown and Brett Connolly, for a roster spot out of camp.

With that said, there is no clear front-runner, causing Yzerman to believe that spots at this year's camp will be at a premium.

"We've been debating right now [as a result of] free agency if we fill some of those spots with experienced NHLers or do we let our young guys compete for those spots," Yzerman said. "That's the tradeoff, but we like the young guys who are up and coming. We have to be patient and not force them into the NHL."

The only trouble is, some – including Labrie, Brown and Connolly – already have NHL experience.

Labrie appeared in 14 games with the Bolts in 2011-12 and only chipped in two assists, yet is not valued for his offensive inclinations, but more so for his ability to fight for pucks, battle along the boards and occasionally drop the mitts.

Brown, meanwhile, is believed to be NHL-ready, while Connolly most likely would also benefit most by continuing to develop at the NHL level.

Then there is Killorn, who joined Norfolk just in time for its lengthy playoff run after completing four seasons at Harvard where he registered a cumulative total of 53 goals and 109 points in 130 career games.

While Lightning fans will have to wait until camp officially begins to see who will make the final roster come October, there are certainly a number of viable options even now at the present time.

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