After signing a one year, two way contract in the offseason, Brett Connolly is in a prove it year with the Bolts. The 22 year old BC native has shown flashes of exciting play, but has not been able to stick with the big club. In his three years as a pro Connolly has played 137 games in the AHL with Syracuse scoring 120 points. Connolly played 68 games with the Lightning in 2011-12 season, but in the next two years Connolly has only played in 16 games. The former first round pick has not been able to produce at the NHL level like he has in the AHL and in juniors. Over his 84 NHL games, Connolly has registered only 17 points. This season Connolly needs to show management and Coach Jon Cooper that he can produce at the NHL level or he may be wearing a new sweater soon. With the depth in the Lightning organization, Connolly has a big fight ahead of him.
Where’s The Fit
Last year in camp, Connolly had perhaps the best camp of any Lightning player. However when all was said and done Connolly was beat out by Richard Panik. The skilled winger didn’t complain and reported to Syracuse; however his season in the AHL did not start out well. Connolly was eventually given another shot with the Lightning last year. However he was used in a role where he wasn’t really able to flash his ability. He was used mostly in a defensive 3rd line role and played center at times, instead of his normal position on the right wing. After only putting up one goal in a few games, Connolly was returned back to the AHL. Fortunately he was able to rebound a finish the year strong in Syracuse.
When you look at the roster today it’s hard to find a fit for the scoring winger. Players like Morrow, Callahan, Panik, Brown, Kucherov, Samson, and Blunden the wings seem stacked. Then throw in perhaps the # 1 prospect in the NHL Jonathon Drouin into the mix; it’s hard to believe Connolly has a great shot to make the club. It leaves most fans to wonder where what exactly the organization has planned for Connolly.
The End Result
In the end I think Brett Connolly is more likely to find himself in another organization by the end of the year. The Lightning are set up to make a big run in the 2014-15 season. Along with having a great prospect pool, I believe this makes Connolly expendable. I see the Connolly being a hot commodity come trade deadline day. Yzerman can use Connolly a big chip to bring in a good rental player to help Tampa Bay’s push in the playoffs. When you look at the organizational depth the role that fits Connolly doesn’t seem to be open. He needs to play in a top six role in order to be a productive player. I don’t see the Lightning continuing to try to shove a square peg into a round hole. All signs including the one year deal, point to the Lightning setting up Connolly to be on the move.
I think Connolly can be a productive player in this league. However both Connolly and the Lightning would benefit from the 22 year old being moved. Baring a few significant injuries, the Connolly dilemma in Tampa Bay is nearing end and new beginning for both parties.