As everyone now knows, the National Hockey League has officially locked out the players. I am the eternal optimist and believe that no regular season games will be missed however, so I will be continuing with this countdown on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s keys to success.
This off-season, General Manager Steve Yzerman revamped the defense but has left some holes open on the offensive side of things. He has done this specifically so that some of the young prospects that are in the Bolt’s system can win spots out of camp and make the team. This will be an important key because these young forwards are on the verge of making the jump to full time NHL duty.
The young prospects that we are discussing here are Brett Connolly, J.T Brown, Cory Conacher, and Alex Killorn. These four young forwards have excellent potential and could all be top six scoring options in the near future. Connolly and Brown both saw time with the Lightning last season while Conacher and Killorn played on the Championship Norfolk Admirals.
This season, look for at least two of these players to make the Bolts with my prediction being Connolly and Brown. Connolly showed some positive signs last season in his rookie year and with an offseason of intense training with Steven Stamkos and fitness guru Gary Roberts, he will have the strength to succeed with the big boys. This added muscle and speed should boost Connolly this year allowing him to score at a pace that we expect from him. 20 goals looks like a good projection as to what the former 1st round draft pick can accomplish this year. Brown on the other hand, only played in five games at the end of the year last season but showed a nice package of offensive maneuvers. He could either be on the second or third line and his style should prove to be successful in the new NHL where speed is such an asset. He has great speed and superb offensive flair that could see him setting up superstars like Vincent Lecavalier on many occasions.
Conacher won the American Hockey League Rookie of the Year and the League’s Most Valuable Player of the year award after a fantastic campaign that saw him leap up near the top of the Lightning prospect rankings. Conacher obviously is a very small forward but he has elite speed and the determination to succeed in the NHL. Those attributes along with some of his other traits combine for a great hockey player that could take the next step as soon as next season. Killorn has been looked at as an almost secret prospect as he has been developing nicely at Harvard for the last four years. He came on to the Admirals at the end of last year and helped them win the Calder Cup with solid production. He could use a full season in the minors but he has the physical qualities to make the big club this year.
All four of these players along with some of the other young forwards in the Lightning system must step up and show they belong because without them, the Bolts will struggle with the offensive depth like they have already done in recent years. For the Lightning to have success, they need scoring from every line on a consistent basis, and the young players who make the team will have to be a big part of that. If that happens, then it would give the team a huge advantage this year and a good chance at success.