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Brett Connolly makes strides quickly in more ways than one for Tampa Bay Lightning

Brett Connolly, above, the Lightning’s first-round draft choice last month, “can pretty much put the puck in from anywhere,” says prospect and former junior league teammate Dana Tyrell.

SCOTT AUDETTE | Tampa Bay Lightning

Brett Connolly, above, the Lightning’s first-round draft choice last month, “can pretty much put the puck in from anywhere,” says prospect and former junior league teammate Dana Tyrell.

TAMPA — One 45-minute practice into the Lightning's development camp Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, and Brett Connolly was a better skater.

Skating guru Barry Karn said Connolly simply maintained a straighter posture as he drove forward. Connolly said it was about "using all the power you can."

Whatever the formula, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft went from (as best Karn could recall) 2.9 seconds for a sprint from goal line to blue line to 2.3, and from 12 strides to eight.

"Yeah," Karn yelled as he clicked his stopwatch as Connolly crossed the blue line, and Connolly said later, "To gain that much speed was pretty cool."

It also was a step, a small one to be sure, but a step toward Connolly proving his injured hips, which limited him to 16 games last season for Prince George of the junior Western League, are healed.

An MRI exam on Friday also was clear, the team said.

"Absolutely not," Connolly, 18, said when asked if he had any doubts about his fitness. "I can't wait to get out there again and show what I can do."

To some, Connolly, 6 feet 2, 181 pounds, could be the steal of the draft. E.J. McGuire, head of NHL Central Scouting, said if the right wing, who scored 30 goals for Prince George as a 16-year-old, had not had flexor injuries to both hips last season, he would have been considered one of the top three players available.

Instead, the talk after Connolly was drafted was about his hips and the right hand he mangled in a fence as a kindergartner and which still, as Prince George coach Dean Clark said, "feels kind of weird" when you shake it.

So, any chance Connolly has to prove himself is significant.

"I'm not just coming here to go through the motions," he said. "I want to work hard. I want to impress people and, for me, I want to show people that I'm healthy and can play."

There's no doubt he can play, said Lightning prospect Dana Tyrell, who in 2008-09 was Connolly's Prince George linemate.

"He likes to get his nose dirty," Tyrell said and added, "He's the kind of guy who if he has an open shot he'll score. That's rare. He can pretty much put the puck in from anywhere."

And, all of a sudden, he's a quicker skater.

Connolly, expected to play at Prince George next season, said he is more focused on stretching and staying flexible. Karn also gave him a six- to eight-minute skating program to be done on the ice before practices, and even pregame skates, to help increase hip, knee and torso rotation.

"Those three levels keep building as the year goes on and strengthens, lengthens and protects the athlete," Karn said.

Who knows how fast Connolly will be then?

HURTING: Out for the entire camp, which runs through Wednesday, are center Alex Hutchings and right wing Richard Panik. Hutchings is rehabbing from sports hernia surgery. Panik recently had screws removed from a shoulder fractured two years ago. He worked out in the gym.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Brett Connolly makes strides quickly in more ways than one for Tampa Bay Lightning 07/10/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 10, 2010 10:02pm]
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