Boucher: Nikita Kucherov And The Cautionary Tale Of Brett Connolly
Something pretty amazing is happening in upstate New York. Not only are the Syracuse Crunch off to another good start in the American Hockey League, but they are enjoying a pretty insane individual effort by right wing Nikita Kucherov. He has AHL-bests with 24 points and 13 goals through 15 games. Oh yeah, it’s his first professional season. This stellar performance has some wondering if Kucherov should be called up to help the Lightning following the loss of Steven Stamkos. Despite this success, Steve Yzerman may be hesitant to make that call. (Photo/Susan Ferlita)
Organizations may find it difficult to gauge when a player is ready to make the jump to the show. It depends on the player and their ability to adapt. Innate skill alone doesn’t always smooth the transition. The Lightning don’t have to look any further than Brett Connolly.
Drafted in 2010, he made the big club out of training camp in 2011. Through 68 games in the 2011-12 season, he averaged a little over 11 minutes a game. For a player projected to be eased into the top six, that’s not a lot of time. Connolly was expected to play a more physical game as a result of spending a large amount of his even strength minutes on the lower lines. His rookie season was tumultuous as a result.
Connolly spent all of last season with the Crunch, partly due to the lockout and partly due to the organization wanting him to take over in the AHL. He flourished and recorded 31 goals and 32 assists. After an excellent training camp with the Lightning prior to the 2013-14 season, he began the season in Syracuse. His first 6 games were tepid and he recorded one assist before being called up by the Bolts.
Struggling in his initial time in the NHL (6 goals, 11 assists ans a -17 rating in 83 games) has left a definite impact on Connolly’s development. Whether it’s a confidence issue or playing outside of his role, his development was stunted. Yzerman may view Connolly as a cautionary tale for rushing other promising prospects.
If Kucherov continues along this path, a future promotion is almost a foregone conclusion. Spending more time in the AHL isn’t a bad thing. One of the hallmarks of Tampa Bay’s prospects in recent seasons is how they fit into the NHL lineup almost seamlessly. That came through time and work in the AHL. Connolly is struggling in his recent games with the Bolts. Is Kucherov ready for his shot? That remains to be seen. Given past history, the organization may be better served by nurturing his development a bit longer before making that leap.
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