To get an idea of just how well Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher is fitting in as a rookie in the National Hockey League, look no further than his individual statistics from each of his first five career NHL games.
The assessment reveals a recurring pattern.
Center - TBL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 7 | +/-: 4
Up until the team’s most recent outing on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, Conacher had registered at least a point in each of his first four career games, three of which were multi-point efforts.
He didn’t land on the score sheet against Philadelphia, but did have one shot on goal and an even rating in 12:57 of ice time.
That may just be, however, the only minor demerit in what otherwise has been a stellar start to what looks to be a promising career.
“Last season in the American League was a big step for me in professional hockey and proved to be important for my development,” Conacher said. “I can’t really say I expected to get off to such a fast start individually, but I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates. With the way they’ve been playing, that’s why we’ve been getting the wins.”
It is just as much, though, an individual effort that is a testament to Conacher’s on-ice abilities.
Entering Monday’s games, the 23-year-old native of Burlington, Ontario, ranked third in team scoring with seven points coming on a pair of goals and five assists. His point total also was second-best among all league rookies, coming in one point behind St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko.
“It’s been a dream,” the former undrafted free agent added.
And it is not only his affinity for scoring that has the team off to one of its best starts in franchise history, with four wins in its first five games.
He is both an excellent and a fast skater, with a certain sixth sense about him that allows him to read plays and react quickly.
Defensively, he is reliable, as well as impressive, but hardly a surprise thus far in the eyes of head coach Guy Boucher.
“I love his backcheck,” Boucher said. “What I like best is that he’s committed defensively. He’s got the offense, but I like that he blocks shots and that’s why he gets ice time. If he didn’t do those things, he wouldn’t be getting ice time.”
What I like best is that he’s committed defensively. He’s got the offense, but I like that he blocks shots and that’s why he gets ice time. If he didn’t do those things, he wouldn’t be getting ice time. - Guy Boucher
His 14:39 of average playing time is seventh among all league rookie forwards, but it is not just how much Conacher is playing, but where.
He is getting power-play time and has played almost exclusively on a line with captain Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell, an experience that he said “has been unbelievable.”
There also seems to be some instant chemistry that has formed among the trio since the beginning of a six-day training camp two weeks ago, as evidenced in the team’s second game of the year, when Conacher trailed Lecavalier to the net and put in a rebound for a goal.
“For me it’s all about just doing the little things and doing whatever the coaches want you to do,” Conacher said. “With my size, it’s all about working hard.”
And for Conacher thus far, it seems to be paying off.