There was a time when all Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman wanted to see from Brett Connolly was how he would play in juniors.
But in a preseason in which Connolly impressed with his skill and increased speed, the right wing not only survived Sunday's 27-player cut, but he is the key to how Tampa Bay gets down to its 23-player limit.
Connolly, 19, the No. 6 overall draft pick of 2010, is one of 26 players left on the training camp roster. Whether the Lightning keeps Connolly will determine whether Tampa Bay keeps 14 forwards and seven defensemen or 13 forwards and eight defensemen.
"We have to consider all the options," Yzerman said, "and a lot of that is predicated on the decisions we make with Brett Connolly."
It is a complicated formula.
The Lightning has eight defensemen on one-way contracts, which pay as much if the player is in the NHL or the minors. Keeping all would not be a problem if the team kept 13 forwards and two goalies to reach the 23-player limit.
But if Yzerman decides to keep Connolly for the nine regular-season NHL games he is allowed before he must make a decision about sending him to juniors, the team likely will carry 14 forwards. And that means a defenseman will have to be sent to AHL Norfolk (and perhaps lost on waivers) or traded.
Suffice to say, Connolly, who has a goal and two assists in his past three games, will be watched closely in the final two preseason games.
"In order for him to stay, he's going to have to play very well," Yzerman said. " … We're going to give him every opportunity until we decide or he shows he can't handle it. But he continues to get better and looks real good out there."
Connolly is one of 15 forwards left, along with bubble players Dana Tyrell, Mattias Ritola and Blair Jones. Ritola and Jones would need waivers to be sent to AHL Norfolk.
Not needing waivers were Cory Conacher and Carter Ashton, who were reassigned to Norfolk.
"We want our young guys playing," Yzerman said. " … They're better off playing a lot of minutes in a lot of situations and developing."