Should he stay or should he go - part three.
According to today's Tri-City Herald, Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is talking with Tri-City Americans General Manager Bob Tory about returning top Lightning prospect Brett Connolly to the Western Hockey League.
The Lightning are still undecided about what to do with their 2010 first round draft pick, the Herald reports.
"I've been in conversation with Steve Yzerman, but they have until [February] 27th to make their decision. We'll see at that point," Tory told the newspaper.
Connolly, who was the subject of the Lightning's "stay or go" debates coming out of training camp and before the World Junior tournament, has averaged around six minutes in ice time with the Lightning this season. Last night against the Sharks he was on the ice for 6:40. He began the year earning more than 10 minutes per game.
Drafted because of his high-end offensive abilities, Connolly has just nine points (four goals) in 43 games with the Lightning. He has been learning the defensive side of the game with the Lightning, but still isn't to a point where coach Guy Boucher appears to trust him in the third period of close games - as reflected by his ice time.
Norfolk Admirals coach Jon Cooper, who no doubt would love to have Connolly in the AHL though he is too young, told Bolt Prospects in training camp that the best level for a prospect's development is the one where he's playing the most. He also said winning plays a promenant role in a player's growth. Connolly can't join the Admirals until Tri-City is eliminated from the playoffs.
With Dominic Moore now out of the Lightning lineup and the Lightning putting up a "Sellers" sign at the trade deadline, conventional thought is Connolly's ice time will go up. It's early, but he remained at the same level Thursday night. If his ice time doesn't go up, one would expect Connolly to be sent back to juniors to play with the Americans deep into the playoffs. Tri-City is currently the second seed in the WHL's Western Conference and is tied with Portland for the third most points in the league. Being sent to Kennewick would allow Connolly to play in the role for which he was drafted - a top-6 forward where he's relied on for clutch scoring. It would also help him maintain his identity as an offensive player and further build his confidence going into next year's Lightning training camp.
From all reports it's been a great learning (and financial) experience for Connolly with the Lightning, but class may be over soon.