Brett Connolly said he always knew what he was capable of doing. He just needed the chance to prove it.
That chance came approximately two weeks ago when the 19-year-old Bolts prospect, selected with the sixth overall selection at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, arrived at the team’s training camp in Brandon with something to prove.
Mission accomplished. He took advantage of the opportunity and earned a spot on the opening night roster.
The Lightning assigned forward Dana Tyrell to Norfolk of the American Hockey League earlier today while defenseman Mattias Ohlund was placed on Injured Reserve. That opened a spot for Connolly, who will start the season with the big club as a member of the final 23-man roster set to depart for the season opener at Carolina.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Connolly said. “The whole experience here has been good for me. I was fortunate enough to come down to Tampa at the beginning of the summer and play as well as I did. I gave myself a chance to show what I can do, so today is definitely something I’ll never forget.”
While Connolly certainly earned the chance to remain with the club for the regular season, sending Tyrell down to Norfolk to start the season with the Admirals also provided the organization with some flexibility.
With Ohlund on Injured Reserve, the Lightning are left with seven defensemen on the roster, permitting the club to keep up to 14 forwards in addition to the two goaltending spots which are already occupied by Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. Of the 15 forwards remaining this morning when practice was held at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, only Tyrell did not require waivers.
Connolly, who tied for the team lead during the preseason with five points, also is deserving of a further look by the coaching staff.
“His development from where he was last season to where he is today is like night and day,” head coach Guy Boucher said. “I know personally for myself, I didn’t expect him to play how he has been until next season.”
There was a time, however, when concerns regarding Connolly’s hips stole the headlines more so than his on-ice abilities. After being limited to just 16 games at the junior level in 2009-10 due to a hip flexor injury, Connolly showed his mettle by putting in extra work the following year, as well as throughout the summer, to get to where he is today: on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s final roster.
“You honestly don’t really realize how much all the preparation during the summer really benefits you,” Connolly said. “I worked hard all summer and then to come here and see the results is pretty amazing. I think last year I was a little off in terms of my fitness level and now these last two weeks have been completely different, so I think coming here and performing at this level the way I have been has been eye-opening for me.”
Connolly, who is still eligible to play in juniors, can play up to nine games with the Lightning at the NHL level before time on the clock starts to expire on his three-year contract.
That remains to be seen. For now, though, the native of Campbell River, British Columbia is enjoying the moment.
“For now, we’ll see what happens, but no matter what, this has been a great experience for me and I’ve learned a lot,” Connolly added.