The Lightning started their busy offseason today by agreeing to terms with their sixth overall pick Brett Connolly. Terms have not been released for the entry-level deal, but it’s the first step in what Lightning fans hope will be a long productive career.
The Prince George, BC native was such a highly regarded prospect that he was Central Scouting’s third ranked skater even though he only played in 16 games last season due to a nagging hip injury. He was the first 16-year-old to score 30 goals in the traditionally defensive Western Hockey League in over a decade (Patrick Marleau). Some people thought he was the best pure sniper in the 2010 draft—a draft that included Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and Jeff Skinner.
This season scouts were reminded of his spectacular talent as he netted 46 goals in 59 games for the Prince George Cougars. Yet another injury (this time a dislocated shoulder) sidelined him for the 2011 playoffs—but the spectacular stats he posted in the regular season proved that he had successfully rebounded from the his troubling hip injury.
Damian Cristodero from the St. Pete Times had the story:
Brett Connolly, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top pick, and No. 6 pick overall, in the 2010 draft, has signed an entry-level contract. The paperwork is not yet registered so it is not “official” (that should happen in July). Connolly could not immediately be reached but his father, Pat, confirmed the signing.
Later Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune confirmed with Connolly himself that he’d signed an entry-level deal.
Looking forward, Connolly has the potential to go with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman as the next generation of hockey stars in Tampa Bay. Next on Steve Yzerman’s offseason “to do” list will be to start making decisions on all of the Lightning free agents. Restricted free agents Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell are both in line for healthy raises. They’ll also have to make decisions on unrestricted free agent playoff performers Dwayne Roloson, Simon Gagne, Sean Bergenheim, Eric Brewer, Mike Smith, and Adam Hall. Tampa Bay is in good shape with their salary cap situation, but they’ll have plenty of work to with their available money.
Steve Yzerman knows things are looking good for his young team:
“We have a good nucleus. We’ve got to make good decisions to try and keep the team at this level or even get better for next year. We have a competitive group of guys and we have a very good coaching staff, so there’s a lot to feel good about.”
The 2010-11 season was a great start for the Steve Yzerman era—but the folks in Tampa view it as just that: a start. Brett Connolly figures to be a piece to help the Lightning build on their Eastern Conference Final appearance. As Yzerman said, they were only a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final this year. If they can make the right moves over the offseason, they should have an opportunity to build on the success over the next few years.