The Tampa Bay Lightning go into Thursday night's game against the New York Rangers in a three-way tie for the NHL's Southeast division lead. While the Lightning have had their ups and downs this season, one thing has seemed to remain constant; their young players are here to play. Tampa Bay has had three rookies play significant time for them this year and each have brought something different to the team. All three players suited up last year for the Lightning's minor league affiliate Norfolk Admirals, which with their help won the Calder Cup Championship. Now Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, and Cory Conacher have all brought their experience and youth to a Lightning team that was in need of a charge up.
Let's first look at the rookie that's perhaps having the biggest impact in the entire league, Cory Conacher. Listed at 5'8'' 179 the less than intimidating Conacher has made opponents who underestimate him regret it all year. Leading all NHL rookies with 11 assists and 18 points, the undersized center has Tampa Bay thinking they've found an eventual heir to veteran Marty St. Louis. Conacher won the AHL's MVP award last year en route to the Admirals hoisting the Calder Cup and seems to have carried over that momentum to his time here with the Lightning. It seems as though the young man is on track to add another trophy to his case as NHL Rookie of the Year. Think the fans have embraced the first year player? Just type #DeathTaxesConacher into Twitter and enjoy the show.
Next let's look at Alex Killorn. Called up from this season's minor league affiliate Syracuse Crunch, Killorn has fit into the lineup almost as flawlessly as Conacher. The 6'2'' Killorn has two Goals, and three Assists already on the year and has looked comfortable transitioning to the speed of the NHL game. He possesses good size which has helped him not be too overwhelmed by veteran opponents looking to take advantage. Killorn saw his first action of the season facing the New York Rangers in the hallowed Madison Square Garden in New York City. In that game he registered his first career Point, assisting on a Vinny Lecavalier goal. Tonight he will get a chance to help avenge what turned out to be his first NHL loss as well.
No need to panic, I didn't forget about our last rookie contributor, Richard Panik. With Ryan Malone missing significant time for Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury, Panik has been given a chance to see the ice often. He may not be lighting up the scorecard but his first, and so far only, career Goal may show a sign of things to come.
"That won't be the last time you're going to be like, 'Holy cow! That kid, he's really, really talented. When he's playing with confidence like that, he can do unbelievable things."
If the Lightning can keep getting that type of creative play out of Panik, Ryan Malone may want to speed up his rehab. The more ice time Panik gets the more we'll be seeing plays like these, and the more we may see the Lightning on Sportscenter's Top 10 highlights.
No matter what the rest of this season holds for Tampa Bay one things clear, the future is bright. Each of these rookies are finding ways to contribute in different ways and with championship experience under their belts, they're a group that doesn't back down to anyone. Now they've just got to add a Stanley Cup to the trophy case next to their Calder Cup....