In just a short time, Brett Connolly has proven to those around the NHL that he can play in North America’s top tier. Now, he will get the opportunity to showcase his skills even further, but in front of the entire world.
Seeking to speed up the development of the young rookie forward, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman announced Thursday that Connolly, 19, will be released from the team temporarily to attend Team Canada’s Selection Camp for this year’s World Junior Championships, which take place Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in the Canadian province of Alberta. Connolly will be among 43 other hopefuls battling for a position on the final roster for the event.
The decision, although calculated, was not especially easy for Yzerman, who has been impressed with Connolly’s play through this point in the season. If anything, the Bolts GM strongly believes the experience will enhance the rookie’s game.
“It's important for these young guys to play in these big events and in pressure games,” Yzerman told The St. Petersburg Times. “They make you better. We still want him here, but what’s best for Brett Connolly in the long run is best for us all. I’m confident this is the right thing for him.”
Following the tournament, Connolly will return to the Lightning to pick up where he left off, with four goals and eight points through 28 matches this season.
Despite the large stage on which the games will take place, Connolly is no stranger to international competition.
The No. 6 overall draft pick in 2010, Connolly also suited up for his native country in last year’s tournament, in which Team Canada lost to Russia in the championship game.
Nevertheless, both Connolly and Yzerman are confident the trip will pay dividends, not only when he returns to the Bolts after the New Year, but also far down the road as well.
“He gets to go there and be one of the leaders who is counted on to set the example, and be the guy the coaches and players look for to make a difference,” Yzerman added. “That's great for him.”