Despite his well-documented hip injuries, the skill that Brett Connolly showed over the last two seasons was enough to impress new Tampa GM Steve Yzerman, who selected Connolly with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
A tremendous offensive talent, the 18-year-old Connolly must now prove his legendary boss right by showing that he has put the injuries behind him. The high-scoring left winger suffered injuries to both hips this past season causing many long-term health concerns. The off-season has allowed Connolly to heal and so far there haven’t been any issues and he heads into camp fully expecting to have a good showing and compete for a roster spot.
The one thing that has never been questioned regarding Brett Connolly is his skill. Many times, a guy might be a great goal-scorer but not a great passer, or vice-versa. Connolly on the other hand has a goal scoring and playmaking ability that can equal each other and he possesses the instincts to know how and when to beat you with either.
It will be interesting to see how Lightning management handles Connolly as the year progresses, but don’t be surprised if he starts the year in Tampa.
When his 2009-2010 season in the WHL came to an end, Ashton got his first taste of pro hockey appearing in 11 games for the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL. In those 11 games, Ashton registered just a single goal but gained the invaluable experience of understanding what it will take to play at the next level, especially at a young age.
Prior to his brief stint in Norfolk, Ashton began his campaign with the Lethbridge Hurricanes before a mid-season trade saw him finish his junior career with the Regina Pats. The 19-year-old was equally productive with both teams, scoring a combined 24 goals and a career-high 51 points in 68 games.
At 6’3, 200 lbs, Ashton already has the size and tools to be a productive power forward, but like most players at such a young age, continued improvement in all areas of the game is certain to serve him well.
Having won a Memorial Cup and World Junior gold, Dustin Tokarski has been a winner wherever he has played and that trend continued into his first season as a goaltender at the professional level. Despite playing for a Norfolk team that missed out on the playoffs and struggled to score goals, Tokarski still managed to post a winning record of 27-25-3 along with a solid 2.51 GAA and a .915 save percentage. He also got his first taste of the NHL, making two relief appearances for the Lightning.
At the recent Tampa Bay Lightning Young Guns Game, Tokarski put on a show in what was supposed to be a high-scoring affair. The 20-year-old stopped all 20 shots he faced including several point-blank chances and a handful of breakaways.
With one impressive campaign under his belt, Tokarski has given himself a chance to crack the Lightning for the upcoming season, but he will be in tough as he will have to battle with Mike Smith and the recently acquired Dan Ellis.
Much like Connolly, Dana Tyrell was a player who had to overcome a major injury before settling into his first pro season. Tyrell suffered a torn ACL and a partially torn MCL in a World Junior exhibition in 2009 and had to watch as his Canadian teammates won the gold medal. The injury forced him to miss the remainder of his final junior season and was a major reason for a slow start to his 2009-2010 campaign with the Norfolk Admirals.
In his first 36 games in Norfolk, Tyrell registered just nine assists but turned it on in the second half scoring nine goals and dishing out 16 assists in the final 38 games of the season.
Injury free to start the season, Tyrell has already turned in an impressive performance at the Lightning prospects came where he was considered to perhaps have had the best camp of anyone. With a spot in the AHL cemented, Tyrell will look to carry his momentum into the club’s main camp where he will hope to further impress Lightning management.
Still just 19 years old, Panik already boasts a boat load of experience at many different levels. Having played two seasons in the Czech league, a season in the OHL with two different teams and numerous international tournaments, Panik has been a solid performer wherever he has played. The big Slovak began the past season with the loaded Windsor Spitfires and although playing time was tough to come by, Panik racked up a respectable 18 points in 33 games. He was then dealt to the much weaker Belleville Bulls where his ice time increased dramatically and so did the results. Panik potted 12 goals and added 11 assists for 23 points in 27 games for the Bulls. He then wrapped up his season on an amateur tryout contract with Norfolk appearing in five games and collecting one assist.
Panik is a big winger with great speed and skill. He excels off the rush using a combination of strength, speed and skill to get to the net where he also demonstrates the soft hands needed to finish the play. For the upcoming season, Panik will look to improve his playmaking skills. If he returns to Belleville, expect him to see a large amount of powerplay time and a jump in his offensive numbers.
6. (5) Ty Wishart, D, 22 Acquired via trade with San Jose, 2008
A former first-round selection of the San Jose Sharks in 2006, Wishart has given himself a good chance of cracking the Lightning’s blue-line heading into the new season. Last year, Wishart led the Admirals in scoring amongst defensemen with 32 points in 76 games which may have been a pleasant surprise since his career-best in junior was only 49 points.
At 6’5 and 215 lbs, Wishart was looked at as more of a defensive defenseman when he was drafted so the fact that his offensive game has translated at the next level is definitely a good sign. With good mobility for his size, a powerful point-shot and an overall good hockey sense, Wishart is a strong candidate to make the jump to the big club this year.
Hutchings has been a big scorer in each full season he played in Barrie. In 2009-2010 he racked up 47 goals and 81 points and was one of the top guns offensively for the high-flying Colts. A smallish winger at 5’10 and a generous 180 lbs, the 19-year-old makes up for his lack of size with exceptional speed and elusiveness. He is very quick on the puck and is unafraid to stick his nose into traffic in order to make a play.
Hutchings suffered a sports hernia and was unable to participate in the prospects camp but he should be able to move on from the junior ranks and get his professional career under way with the Norfolk Admirals.
A big physical rear-guard, Brock is the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Beukeboom who brings the same nasty game as his father but with more skill. He is an adept skater who is able to skate himself out of difficult situations with ease and while he tends to concentrate mostly on his defensive responsibilities, Beukeboom has the ability to jump into the play to create odd man rushes and chip in offensively. Considered to be a future leader, Brock, like many sons of former NHLer’s brings a great attitude on and off the ice and understands what it takes to be a solid contributor in any fashion of the game.
Beukeboom is likely to be given another year or two in junior but he already fits the mold of a solid shut-down type player on the back-end.
9. (6) Matt Lashoff, D, 23 Acquired via trade with Boston, 2009
Now with his second organization, the 23-year-old Lashoff is hoping that the hot Tampa sun is a place that he can stick with for a little while. Originally drafted by the Bruins as a first-rounder in 2005, Lashoff played in parts of three seasons with the B’s before being dealt to the Bolts in 2009. In two seasons with the club he has managed to get into just 17 games, seeing most of his time on the farm in Norfolk where he has struggled at times and was a team worst -18 this past season.
While he probably hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a first round pick, Lashoff is still a good young player with a lot of upside. However, his defensive awareness and positioning are two areas Lashoff must improve if he wants to become a full time player in the NHL. The opportunity is there for him to start the season with the Lightning, but it will take a strong training camp.
The club’s first round pick in 2005, the towering blueliner has played 15 games for the Lightning over the past two seasons and performed admirably despite some shortcomings in his skating and lack of physical play for his size. For Norfolk, he has been one of the Admirals most consistent defensemen and his strong play recently earned him a new contract that will see him play in Tampa for at least one more year.
At 6’7, 240 lbs, Mihalik’s size is certainly something that the Lightning covet and will always be to his advantage in terms of catching the eye of an employer. He is likely to start the season in the AHL but with injuries inevitably on the horizon, look for Mihalik to get his fair share of time with the Lightning this year.
Considered to be a checking forward with good size and an improving offensive game, Wright surprised everyone when he made the Lightning out of training camp as a 19-year-old. After playing in 48 games, he was sent back to the Vancouver Giants of the WHL as he was too young to play in the AHL.
In Tampa he recorded 2 goals and 5 points in his 48 games and after his return to Vancouver he was one of the club’s top performers in the playoffs. In 16 playoff games with the Giants he posted 16 points in 16 games.
With a new head coach and a new general manager, it will be interesting to see what the new management team thinks of Wright. It probably doesn’t bode well for Wright that new coach Guy Boucher is more offensively minded than former coach Rick Tocchet, but he teams always need checking forwards so he should at least be in the mix.
Killorn, a left-winger out of Harvard University, isn’t spectacular in any one area but brings a solid all-around game to the table. Despite a slight 170 pound frame, Killorn has a very high compete level and loves to play a nasty, in-your-face type of style. Aside from his strong work ethic, Killorn sees the ice well and has good vision with the puck. He is defensively responsible and rarely caught out of position.
The soon to be 21-year-old is the kind of player who you always know what you can expect to see out on the ice; a hard-working, steady offensive player who is also very responsible in his own zone.