Steve Yzerman certainly knows how to make an entrance. The new General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning stunned many of the experts by selecting Prince George (WHL) center Brett Connolly with the sixth overall selection in the NHL Draft.
Connolly was believed to be one of the top prospects available for this year's entry draft, but a severe hip injury limited the 2009 WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year to just 16 games.
Many believed Connolly could go as high as fifth overall or as low as 30th because of the injury. With offensive dynamo defenseman Cam Fowler on the board, a player who played for the Windsor Spitfires and was seen multiple times by Yzerman while Stevie Y was with the Detroit Red Wings, Yzerman looked as he had no doubt in the selection of the ultra-talented Connolly.
Was Yzerman concerned about Connolly's injury?
"I think it made him available at the sixth pick," Yzerman told TSN, "If not for the injury, he would have been drafted much higher. It's a muscular issue and it's been resolved. We believe he's healthy."
If he is, Tampa Bay just got themselves a dynamic compliment to Steven Stamkos. The first 16 year old to score 30 goals in the WHL since Patrick Marleau, scouts rave about this youngster's offensive skills (if healthy).
"Brett Connolly is a goal scoring phenom who took the Western League by storm last season ('08-'09)," The Hockey News ' Mark Seidel said. "Connolly is heading into this campaign as potentially the best natural goal-scorer in the WHL and his draft class, so scouts are left to wonder what type of numbers he would put up if he played with some quality NHL prospects that Prince George severely lack."
Other scouts have compared him to 50-goal scorer Rick Nash and the great Peter Forsberg.
Connolly cites Nash as an idol.
“Rick Nash is a big, strong, skilled player who's reliable in his own defensive zone and I can relate to that,” Connolly told the Vancouver Sun . “I think my d-zone has to get better, but we do have similar styles. He's definitely a guy that I watch and can model my game around.”
As he was grilled about his injury during his post-selection interview with TSN, the youngster looked like he was tired of talking about the issue.
"I've been cleared by three doctors and I know better than anyone that I'm ready to play," Connolly said, showing a slight bit of frustration with the questioning.
Yzerman hopes the chip on Connolly's shoulder translates into more elite goal scoring talent at the Center position for the Tampa Bay Lightning.