ESTERO — Unlike previous preseasons, RW Brett Connolly's statistics won't pop off the page.
Connolly, 22, scored his first goal in three preseason games Tuesday against the Stars, a wrist shot past former Lightning G Anders Lindback in the third period.
But coach Jon Cooper said Connolly, the No. 6 overall draft pick in 2010, is having his best camp. And it couldn't have come at a better time; 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 flybys and not come out with (it). 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 AHL Syracuse after strong camps before, including last season. But this year he'd have to clear waivers first. The Lightning is giving him every opportunity to stick, 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."
FINALLY: RW J.T. Brown might be the most snakebitten Lightning forward when it comes to scoring. Brown tallied just four goals in 63 games last season, none after Dec. 23.
So when Brown scored a shorthanded goal Tuesday, it drew quite a reaction on the bench. On the play, Lindback came out too far and turned over the puck by the blue line, with Brown given the puck and a wide-open net.
"If we had a microphone on the bench when he came by, it was pretty good," Cooper said. "We were wondering if he and 'Lindy' had worked it out beforehand. You could tell there was a weight lifted off his shoulders when he came back. A lot of guys were giving it to him. It's only a matter of time."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin (right thumb fracture) skated in a red (no-contact) jersey for the second straight day Wednesday. … LW Brenden Morrow remained sidelined with a stiff back. Morrow, who has been limited since Monday, is considered day to day.
MISCELLANY: 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 in June, will play tonight, his second preseason game. … The Lightning worked on four-on-four situations Wednesday, preparing for the new overtime rules. … An estimated 200 people showed up for the open practice at Germain Arena.
Around the league
Blue Jackets: The team, looking to build on last season's playoff appearance, will start the season without its top line after center Boone Jenner had surgery on his broken left hand and was said to be out about five weeks. Ryan Johansen, Columbus' leading scorer last season, is in the middle of a contract dispute and hasn't been at camp, and Nathan Horton is not practicing due to a bad back.
rangers: Coach Alain Vigneault has decided to take up wing Marty St. Louis' offer to player center with Derek Stepan out with a broken leg. St. Louis sent Vigneault a text message last week with the offer. Vigneault said there may need to be adjustments on faceoffs.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.