Friday, June 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Connolly aims to win spot with Lightning

TAMPA — The burning question after the Lightning's scrimmage Tuesday was whether Brett Connolly's goal was luck or skill.

The right wing initially went with luck and gave more credit to Jonathan Drouin's pass that set the whole thing up.

But asked if there wasn't at least some skill needed to score the goal that gave the Blue a 1-0 victory over the White at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Connolly caved.

"Maybe a little," he finally said. "I just tried to get it off quick."

Connolly, 21, need not be modest. In fact, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft should be proud of how he transformed his game after a confidence-crushing rookie season and how he has forced himself into the competition for as many as four spots in Tampa Bay's top 12 forwards.

That competition gets going tonight in the preseason opener against the Blues at the Amway Center in Orlando.

Connolly's first game likely will be Thursday at the Times Forum against the Predators. He could not have a better jumping-off point than the way he has started camp with two goals in two scrimmages.

"I look at Brett Connolly compared to a year ago; he's a way better hockey player," Cooper said. "He's a mature player now, and it's kind of fun to watch."

"I just want to make it hard on the coaches and give them no reason to send me back to Syracuse," Connolly said of Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate. "I'm pretty happy with the way I started."

Connolly started his career in over his head. As a 19-year-old rookie in 2011-12, he was without a goal in his final 50 games. Because he still had a year of junior eligibility, he was not allowed in the AHL, which was where he should have been.

As if his confidence wasn't shaken enough, Connolly was not invited to the 2012-13 Lightning training camp. He was sent to Syracuse, playing for Cooper until the coach went to Tampa Bay after Guy Boucher was fired.

"It was the best thing for me to stay down there and get better as a player," said Connolly, who had 31 goals, 63 points in 71 games. "I feel more comfortable on the ice. I feel in a better spot. I feel good."

Especially on defense, where Connolly, 6 feet 2, 193 pounds, said he is most improved, and he credits Cooper's instruction.

"It's almost second-nature now," he said. "I just know where to be in the defensive end, which I really didn't know 100 percent of the time last year. It was nice to have that mind-set going into training camp. It's just a lot easier this year."

"The big thing with Brett is he was recognizing how we want to play the game," Cooper said. "He was adapting, and that was really encouraging for us. And when he started to play D, he started to put the puck in the net."

"I've said it all along," Cooper added, "when you look after (the defensive zone), the other end will look after itself."

That brings us back to Tuesday and Connolly's goal-scoring collaboration with Drouin, whose pass somehow got past a crowd of opponents.

"I'm not sure what happened, honestly," Connolly said. "I got spun around and (the puck) was pretty much on my stick."

"He's a smart player," Drouin said. "He sees the game well, and he puts in his work down low in his zone and in the other zone."

So, was Connolly's goal luck or skill?

Probably a little of both.

NOTES: The camp roster was reduced to 59 as forward Brett Welychka, defenseman Jake Dotchin and goalie Eric Brassard were released from amateur tryouts. … Defenseman Dylan Blujus will be out 2-4 weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. … Forward Joel Vermin, drafted 186th overall in June, signed a three-year, entry-level contract. Vermin, 21, will be assigned to Bern of the Swiss-A league for which he had 13 goals, 35 points in 47 games last season.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

The Lightning has re-signed one of its restricted free agents in backup goalie Louis Domingue, who will be back with Tampa Bay on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million.Domingue, 26, was acquired from Arizona in November after he had posted a 4.33 goals-...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

The Lightning has filled one of the openings on Jon Cooper's coaching staff, announcing Friday  that former Tampa Bay forward Jeff Halpern has been hired as an assistant coach.Halpern, 42, has spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

As expected, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he does not intend to re-sign veteran forward Chris Kunitz, who will seek his fifth Stanley Cup with a different team next season.Kunitz, 38, brought much-needed playoff experience in his lone...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

The Lightning isn't scheduled to pick until the second round, but there's no telling how active they might be with trades, so you'll want to follow our live coverage throughout the NHL draft Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7) in Dallas.(funct...
Updated: 4 hours ago
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Published: 06/21/18
Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

DALLAS — The New York Islanders have hired Barry Trotz as their new head coach. President of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello announced the move Thursday at the NHL draft, two weeks after Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and thr...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

The victims and survivors of three tragedies — the mass shootings in Las Vegas and at Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School, and the bus accident that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team — were a big part of Wedne...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18
Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning will announce their full 2018-19 schedule on Thursday, but the league announced each home opener Wednesday, with Tampa Bay playing host to the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.The Lightning will know their ...
Published: 06/20/18