March 17, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Brett Connolly (14) shoots against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Connolly set for breakout season

After a stellar season with the Syracuse Crunch, Brett Connolly stands ready to assume the mantle of an NHL star.

Not a true rookie, as he played with Tampa Bay in 2011-2012, he returns to the team as a vastly improved player. Connolly,RW, 21, returns to camp as the Crunch’s second points leader behind Tyler Johnson. With 63 points total, including 31 goals in the Crunch’s 2013 campaign, Connolly demonstrated the ability that tabbed him as a natural scorer when Lightning GM Steve Yzerman picked him sixth overall in the 2010 NHL draft.

Connolly came to the league with the injury-prone tag. While playing with Prince George, he sustained a major hip injury. Yzerman said without the injury, he probably would have been drafted much sooner.

In the ’11-’12 season, Connolly received a call to the big team, but excited nobody with four goals and 11 helpers. He played in 68 games, mostly on the third line. A frustration to then-Coach Guy Boucher, he spent a few games as a healthy scratch, watching play from the press box.

Last year’s lockout gave few prospects a shot at the mother club. Connolly toiled at Syracuse, while flash-in-the-pan prospect Cory Conacher received NHL time with the Bolts. Though he spent a few games with the parent club, Connolly was a fixture on Syracuse’s top line with Johnson as the team defended their Calder Cup, falling ultimately to Grand Rapids in the finals.

The Bolts have a history with underachievement with top prospects. Even super-sniper Steven Stamkos was called “unready” by 15-game head coach Barry Melrose. His successor Rick Tocchet held Stamkos out of several games, assigning him to the video booth and some one-on-one time with assistant coaches. It’s a precedent followed by Connolly, almost to a T.

Stamkos spent his next summer in workouts with former Bolt and training guru Gary Roberts. He came back to tie Sidney Crosby for the Maurice Richard Trophy in his sophomore year. This summer, the Lightning report Connolly spent in intense workouts with Roberts, gaining six pounds of muscle. Already known as fast, with no lingering effects from his hip injury, Connolly is billed at 6’2″ and a hammering 213 pounds. Placed on a line with Stamkos, Martin St. Louis or Valtteri Filppula, Connolly’s skill for finding the net could be lethal.

 

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