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Cooper: Connolly having his best camp

Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 5:35pm

Unlike previous preseasons, Lightning RW Brett Connolly's stats won't pop off the page.

Connolly, 22, scored his first goal in three preseason games Tuesday, a wrist shot past former Lightning G Anders Lindback in the third period.

But coach Jon Cooper said Connolly, the No. 6 overall pick in 2010, is having his best camp. And it couldn't have come at a better time as the Lightning is expecting Connolly to compete for a top-six forward spot.

"He's showing a lot more poise with the puck than he has in the past," Cooper said. "One thing I've been kind of proud of him about is he was kind of a one-and-done player and now he's starting to go into the corner and is coming out with the puck instead of sometimes he'd use to do some fly-byes and not come out with them. He's engaged a little bit more, that's all progress to me. He's a better player today than he was last year at this time."

Connolly has been sent back to American Hockey League Syracuse after strong camps before, including last season. But this year, he'd have to clear waivers first. Tampa Bay is giving him every opportunity, including a lot of power play time, and Connolly has responded.

"It's a little different," Connolly said. "Last year, everything was kind of uncertain. I wasn't too sure what was going to happen. I feel this year I'm being put in different situations, better situations. But I'm still getting no freebies from Coop, he's still very hard on me and expects a lot.

"It's been a good start, I feel like I'm playing well. I've just got to build on that."

MORE PRACTICE NOTES: Touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin (right thumb fracture) skated in a red (no-contact) jersey for the second straight day… LW Brenden Morrow remained sidelined with a stiff back. Morrow, who has been limited since Monday, is still considered day-to-day...G Evgeni Nabokov will start tonight against the Panthers and play the whole game. G Ben Bishop is likely to play the preseason finale Saturday at Amalie Arena… Cooper said RW Richard Panik is also having his best camp..Panthers rookie D Aaron Ekblad, the overall No. 1 draft pick last June, will play tonight, just his second preseason game...The Lightning worked on 4-on-4 situations Wednesday, preparing for the new overtime rules... An estimated 200 fans showed up for Wednesday's open practice at Germain Arena.