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Lightning rookie Brett Connolly makes the most of learning opportunity

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
On any given day, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher can be heard around the team's locker room speaking at length about "the process."

It's a word Boucher uses extensively, sometimes to describe the organization’s effort to rebuild its minor league system, and at others when talking about the ups and downs of the long, 82-game regular season.

But this past week, Boucher applied the term in reference to the learning curve and ongoing maturation of forward Brett Connolly, who he made a healthy scratch on Thursday for a game against Winnipeg in an effort to help the rookie recognize deficiencies in his defensive game through observation.

Brett Connolly controls the puck against Tyson Strachan of the Florida Panthers (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
"One, he was expecting it, and two, he understands it," Boucher said. "These are moments that as a 19-year-old they need to go through and learn and take a breather sometimes."

Boucher likened Connolly's situation to those of Lightning superstar center Steven Stamkos and Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin.

Both were selected with either the No. 1 or No. 2 picks in their respective draft classes, but still underwent similar struggles early on in their careers. Stamkos spent several games during his 2008-09 rookie season watching and learning from high above the ice in the press box, while Seguin was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions in his first NHL campaign a season ago.

"I look at Stamkos who lived the same thing, he's looking pretty good. I look at Seguin, and he's looking pretty good too," Boucher added.

Just one game after Connolly sat out for the first time in his career, it was evident that his head coach's message hadn't fallen on deaf ears.

Connolly looked like a much-improved player on Saturday night in his first game back, as he made two good defensive plays during the first period of the Bolts' 6-3 win over the Panthers. He also sent a spectacular centering feed from behind the net to Stamkos, parked in front, that create a solid scoring opportunity.

"I have to work even harder now and make it tough for them to take me out of the lineup," Connolly said. "I want to be better every day."

Connolly, Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 2010, made the roster out of training camp and jumped right in, collecting four goals and two assists in his first 18 games. Since missing 11 NHL games though while playing with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, in which he notched five goals and six points to help his club capture a bronze medal, he hasn't had a point in 11 games and has seen his playing time diminish to less than eight minutes per game.

"It was the first time ever in my life anywhere that I had been scratched," Connolly added. "It was a learning experience."

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