Staying Power

The Lightning will have no prospects in the WHL this year, and that's just fine with Brett Connolly.

Late last night, after Connolly's ninth game in the NHL, the St. Pete Times reported Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman told Connolly he was staying in the NHL this season.

That loud obscenity you heard from the northwest around that time was the head office of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, who were counting on their captain and homegrown star to return to the club this season.

As soon as Connolly plays his 10th game his NHL contract kicks in. Nine games is the cut-off for junior age players who aren't yet old enough to play in the American Hockey League.

Connolly played over 15 minutes Tuesday night in Buffalo and finished plus-1. His hit on the forecheck created the Lightning's first goal though he wasn't credited with an assist. He has two assists on the year.

The worry now with Connolly is if he lets up, but don't count on it.

He spent the summer away from home in Toronto working on adding muscle to his 180 pounds. The Cougars roster lists him at 6'2" 203 right now.

Connolly has put in a lot of work and improved every game, according to the Lightning. He's not the type to coast.

Now Connolly can focus on helping his line and his team any way he can. One of the reasons he's not got a lot of points so far is he's been playing in a "digger" or "first man in" role for his highly skilled teammates, being Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis or Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell. His job is to forecheck and get the puck to his teammates and do the little things right. If he gets a scoring chance, so be it. The Lightning's top lines haven't been dominating five on five either.

Connolly has the ability to finish the year flirting with 20 goals, especially if he continues to get power play time and doesn't participate in the World Junior Championships at Christmas. Much like Stamkos in his rookie year, expect Connolly to have a strong second half of his first season.

The future is bright for him. Starting now, officially.