Welcome to a new, and hopefully reoccurring, part of this blog. The fine folks over at Raw Charge (The Internet’s Bestest Place for All Things Lightning Related) have been posting a question of the week for some time now. I’m not sure how long, definitely not as long Vinny’s 20-goal streak but longer than Niklas Sundstrom’s Lightning career.
I’ve occasionally commented on their questions, but have always wanted to have a platform to expound upon my thoughts. Then I remember that I had a blog. Not only that, but a blog that sometimes even mentioned the Lightning. So with Chief-Raw Charger-Officer’s blessing I’ll be posting my thoughts (no matter how incoherent they are) on the weekly question. He did make me promise not to call anyone mollycoddles or Johnny Bum’s so that might limit my quest to bring those words back into vogue, but that’s neither here nor there.
This week’s question: “What ONE thing would you go back andchange before the start of the season?”
Of course, Mr. Fontana would echo my thoughts with his answer – keeping Cedric Desjardins in the organization. Allowing the Boucher-approved net minder to leave for rockier pastures of Colorado thinned out the Lightning’s stable of NHL-ready goaltenders. Which is something that would have been nice with the pre-season number one allowing almost 4 goals a game and his counterpart proving that he can’t really handle the workload of a number one puck stopper.
So instead I’m going to say that if I was granted one very specific Lightning related wish I would have sent Brett Connolly back to his junior team this season. I know, I know I’ve argued that he belonged with the team at the beginning of the season and heck, just the other day I twittered, tweeted, twitted that he could be the recipient of more playing time now that Dominic Moore is a Shark (Hmmm….in a future Winnipeg/San Jose match-up will they have the cojones to have a “Dress as your favorite ‘West Side Story’ character” night?).
|Back when Connolly and the Lightning Power Play could score. Photo from AP.|
However, I’ve come to change my mind. Seeing the difference in his play from earlier in the season to now makes it almost obvious that he wasn’t ready to be a factor for an NHL team. After starting the season averaging almost 13 minutes of ice-time a game he hasn’t played more than 9 minutes a game since January 7th. In those 15 games since the 7th he has one assist and hasn’t scored a goal since November 17th against Pittsburgh (Ha. Suck it Penguins’ fans!)
He’s been a scratch of the healthy variety several times since the calendar has flipped to 2012. It’s obvious that Coach Boucher isn’t at the point where he’s comfortable having the young winger on the ice during critical parts of the game.
|His slump should help me acquire this card at a reasonable price. Bonus!|
This doesn’t mean I think he’s a bust, or a dud if you prefer Lightning historical nomenclature. The Campbell River native’s performance on the big stage of the World Juniors proved that he can perform against the best in the world; he just needs a little more seasoning to elevate his game in the NHL.
Would he have gotten that seasoning by spending a year in a league that he dominated in previously? That’s hard to say, but another year would have allowed the 19 year-old to put on more weight and become stronger. Very few players can come into the league under the age of 20 and be effective. There is just such a tremendous difference in the speed and size of the players that it is hard to overcome, plus you can’t even enjoy a beer with your teammates after a hard-fought victory. They still do that, right? Sit around the clubhouse and crack open a Molson or two while their various cuts get stitched up. I like to think they do.
Next season will be a big test for Connolly. He’ll have to earn his spot on the club especially with young prospects such as Carter Ashton and Cory Conacher knocking on the door. Connolly has shown that he is willing to play physically, whether it’s crashing the net or going into the corners to battle for the puck. That’s going to be the biggest factor for him staying in the league. If, and it’s always a big if when talking about prospects, he can take it to the next level and finish the opportunities he creates.
He has undoubtedly learned a lot by being in the NHL, but with 20/20 hindsight, I think his days (if not his bank account) would have been better off in juniors for one more season.