Prince George's Brett Connolly will start the season in the American Hockey League after the Tampa Bay Lightning assigned him to the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday.
Connolly, a 21-year-old forward, was Tampa Bay's first pick (sixth overall) in the 2010 National Hockey League draft. In five pre-season games with the Lightning, he had four points -- all of them goals -- and had a plus/minus rating of plus-four.
Connolly played in 68 games for the Lightning in 2011-12 and spent the majority of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign with the Crunch. In 71 games, he had 31 goals and 63 points, totals that were good enough to earn him recognition as a second-team AHL all-star. Connolly also skated in five late-season contests with Tampa and recorded one goal.
Many observers predicted Connolly would stick in the NHL this season. On Monday, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said on the team's website there was "no hurt, shame or anything" in Connolly being sent to Syracuse.
"Brett Connolly is barely 21 years old and he prospered in the AHL last year with me as his coach, so I am a big fan," said Cooper, who is also a Prince George product. "He did everything I asked and everything we asked here in training camp. This is also a business. In saying that, Brett Connolly could be here tomorrow; he could be here in a month, he could be here in two months. To me he played himself into the conversation of being on this team full-time and I dont think anybody in this room would have said that a year ago. Hes taken unbelievable strides in his development and Im really proud of him."
Cooper added that Connolly "can't hang his head" about being assigned to the Crunch.
"Hell be judged not just on how he played in this camp, but how he plays in the AHL, so he cant let his guard down," Cooper said. "If he doesnt [let] his guard down that will play extremely well in his favour and maybe well see him back at some point."
Brett Bulmer, another Prince George minor hockey graduate who was an NHL draft pick in 2010, has also been sent to the AHL.
The 21-year-old Bulmer, picked in the second round (39th overall) by the Minnesota Wild, will begin his season with the Iowa Wild. He was one of Minnesota's final three cuts on Sunday.
Bulmer, a forward, has appeared in nine NHL games, all of them in 2011-12. During his NHL stint, he registered three assists.
Prince George products Brandon Manning (defenceman, Philadelphia Flyers) and Nick Drazenovic (forward, Pittsburgh Penguins) also failed to crack the rosters of their NHL teams. Meanwhile, goaltender Jason LaBarbera -- who played some of his minor hockey in Prince George -- will back up Devan Dubnyk as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
The NHL regular season starts tonight.