After 12-game absence, Connolly back for Bolts

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Tampa Bay forward Brett Connolly — the club’s first-round pick (6th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft — will return to the lineup tonight when the Bolts play in Toronto.

Connolly, 22, suffered a lower-body injury on Oct. 24 and has missed the last 12 games. Prior to that, he’d scored two goals in eight contests while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Tampa Bay is no doubt pleased to get Connolly back in the lineup, though it’s another young talent the club is really waiting on. Prized defenseman Victor Hedman, who’s missed the last 15 games with a broken finger, has resumed skating and is still on pace for an early-December return.

But it’s a return that can’t come soon enough for head coach Jon Cooper.

“I don’t want to throw numbers out but he’s a top-10-slash-top-five defenseman in the NHL,” Cooper told The Hockey News. “You pull the top defenseman from any team in this league and everybody would have issues.

“We’ve weathered this storm without him, but we can’t go much longer.”