It probably surprised a lot of people when the Lighting sent 1st round pick Jonathan Drouin back to junior a few weeks ago. I think that it's a positive reflection of where the franchise is though, that a young player as uber-talented as he is, even Drouin couldn't crack this year's roster. That's a good thing.
It's equally encouraging to see the roster and note a few players who have worked their way into the NHL through the team's AHL development system; another sign that the organization is doing things the right way. Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Radko Gudas are prime examples of that type of success.
2012 Choice: Nikita Kucherov - The talented Russian had a strong season in the QMJHL after overcoming an injury and a trade from the Quebec Remparts to Rouyn-Noranda. It was then pretty poetic that Kucherov's 6-point night eliminated Patrick Roy's Remparts from the playoffs. This year Kucherov is on the farm in Syrachuse and already producing at well over a point per game pace.
My 2013-14 selection as One To Watch for Tampa Bay comes after the jump.
Brett Connolly (RW)
6'2, 181 lbs
Drafted 6th overall 2010
As surprised as many were about Drouin getting sent back to junior, my shock was that Drouin and Brett Connolly both failed to stick out of camp. I really believed that one of them would be a full time Tampa Bay forward this year.
But Connolly was sent back to the farm and although he has played a game in the NHL already this year, who knows where he'll spend the bulk of this season.
As I mentioned earlier, the Lighting have a track record now of slowly bringing guys along, making sure they spend enough time in the AHL to be ready to step in with the big club and have success. Connolly is on that development path as well although as a 6th overall pick three drafts ago, it has been a longer AHL tenure than most would have expected.
It's a contract year for Connolly so you know he's going to be even more motivated to prove that he belongs in the NHL and that his next deal reflects the same thing.
He scored 31 goals and 63 points for the Crunch last year and helped take them to the AHL final where Syracuse lost in 6 games to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
I'm intrigued by Connolly's situation and his reaction to it; if he's on the farm more often than not, is he motivated or frustrated? If he's on the NHL roster, can he contribute enough to keep his spot? Is Connolly a guy the organization considers trading before the deadline?
Those are some of the reasons why Brett Connolly is my pick as One To Watch for Tampa Bay in 2013-14.
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