By Jameson Cooper, Staff Writer
Currently around the United States and Canada, the future stars of many NHL franchises are beginning to gather as training camp kicks off for the American Hockey League. While the veterans are still locked out of NHL arenas, the youth of hockey world is still free to develop their skills and compete against one another.
With no professional hockey being played for the foreseeable future, the light will shine even brighter on these young skaters. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Cory Conacher is ready for that spotlight.
Conacher burst onto the scene last season with possibly one of the greatest and most surprising AHL seasons of all time, but his road to success wasn’t an easy one. Much like fellow Lightning prospect J.T. Brown, Conacher went undrafted through his four collegiate seasons at Canisius College, mostly due to his small stature rather than his play on the ice.
Conacher left Canisius College with 12 team records including the team’s all-time scoring record of 147 points – 62 of which were goals. In his time at Canisius, he was also named the Atlantic Hockey Association’s player of the year after the 2010 season.
In 2011, Conacher signed as a free agent with the Lightning’s former AHL affiliate, The Norfolk Admirals. Once he arrived in Norfolk, his career really began take off. Early on it was easy to see that he had the potential to be a prolific scoring winger, capable of making his own shots. In his first full season, Conacher was able to turn his potential into a reality and used his impressive scoring ability to earn a spot on the AHL’s all-star team.
Conacher’s 39 goals and 80 total points led the Admirals to an AHL record 28 game winning streak which included taking home the Admiral’s first ever Calder Cup. As if a league championship and all-star appearance weren’t enough, Conacher capped his amazing rookie season by taking home the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, given each year to the league’s most valuable player — Making him only the fourth rookie ever to win the award since it was first presented in 1948.
Now we look ahead to this season as Conacher will look to improve on his already impressive resume with the Lightning’s new AHL affiliate — the Syracuse Crunch. Although he has already proved enough to earn a spot at the pro level, Conacher will once again start the season in the AHL due to the NHL lockout. However, this time in the AHL could prove to be valuable to Conacher. Instead of waiting for arena doors to open, Conacher and other AHL eligible players will be able to maintain competitive play and not lose a feel for the speed of the game.
When the lockout is inevitably lifted, Conacher will be fully ready to go and take his game to the next level. Depending on when the season starts, I expect Conacher to contribute on the Lightning’s 3rd or 4th line as he adjusts to the NHL level. With future Hall of Famers Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier heading towards the end of their careers, Conacher will look to join Steven Stamkos as the future of the Lightning’s offense.