Top pick Connolly gets to skate with big boys


St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

BRANDON — Brett Connolly admitted to butterflies after he checked the lineups for Sunday’s scrimmage and saw he was on a line with C Steven Stamkos and RW Marty St. Louis.

“Obviously, you’re nervous,” Connolly said. “I look up to those guys. They’re great players.”

And Connolly, 18, the No. 6 overall pick of the June draft, kept up. Actually, better to say he did not slow the other two down, which coach Guy Boucher said was just as impressive.

“Some people will think I gave him candy for being our first-round pick, but it’s the opposite,” Boucher said. “I gave him quite a task to see if he could follow probably our two fastest guys, and he did. He’s not as fast as them, which means he’s extremely smart.”

“He’s good,” Stamkos said. “You can tell he’s got the offensive instincts. He knows where to be and drives the net well.”

Connolly is trying to regain confidence and rhythm after missing all but 16 games last season with Prince George of the junior Western League because of hip injuries. That’s why Boucher said, “I thought he’d have a very hard time.”

But Connolly, with a secondary assist on Stamkos’ goal, said, “It’s easy to play with those guys. You just have to go to spots, and they’ll find you.”

SPEED DEMONS: Boucher said the scrimmage’s pace was better than Saturday’s but still “not enough yet.”

“I’m a big believer in not just foot speed, but mind speed,” he said. “If we execute faster than the other team, no matter what our system is, usually you’re first on the puck and you dictate the play.”

And not only in open ice.

“Practice or games, we’re charging the net with whatever we got,” he said. “I want to see guys bulldozing the net, whether it’s our goalies or the other team’s goalies.

“I want our goalies to be used to that. That’s how playoffs are played, and we’re going to play playoff hockey from Day 1.”

ODDS AND ENDS: LW Simon Gagne said his first goal as a Lightning was “good for confidence.” … C Mitch Fadden is being held out of camp because of a shoulder injury, Boucher said. … D Radko Gudas, who injured his shoulder at the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., is close to returning. … Practice is at 10 a.m. today.

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