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Tampa Bay Lightning

Conacher quickly proving he belongs with Tampa Bay Lightning

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:29 AM
ESTERO -

Trying to figure out exactly where Cory Conacher fits into the Lightning plans might be as simple as seeing him smile.

For the first three days of training camp the second-year pro has been working almost exclusively on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell. If Conacher entered training camp penciled in on that line, it might be time to switch that over to permanent ink heading into Saturday's season-opener against Washington.

When asked about how he sees the situation unfolding this week, Conacher wore a constant smile, as if perhaps he'd already been let in on what appears to be apparent at this point.

"They are really giving me a good opportunity,'' Conacher said. "It's really been a dream to play in the NHL so it's important for me to take advantage of this and hopefully show the coaching staff that they haven't made a mistake by putting me there and I have to do the things that make me belong on that line.''

Conacher entered training camp with Tampa Bay last year undrafted out of Canisius College. He was invited to attend camp despite being under only a contract with the Lightning's minor league team. By the end of camp – and Conacher stuck around right to the end – the 5-foot-8, 180-pound winger was playing exhibition games on a line with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, and fit right in.

While he didn't earn a spot on the roster, and wasn't even signed to an NHL deal until March, Conacher proved his worth by going on to lead the AHL in goals while capturing MVP honors in helping lead the Lightning's farm team to a Calder Cup championship.

It's safe to say the impression Conacher left with the organization last season hasn't strayed one bit heading into this season, even if his production with Syracuse in the AHL this season fell off a bit in the first half of this season. Before he was called up on Friday, Conacher had 12 goals and 28 points in 35 games after ending last season with 39 goals and 80 points in 35 games.

Putting Conacher on the second line is not exactly like throwing darts up against the board to see where he lands.

"He's got speed, he does things at a very, very high pace,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "Now we want to look at what he can do with guys that play NHL high pace that are high end guys. I think he did a good job (in scrimmages), he pushes the pace with them and that's what I'm looking for.

"I want guys that are going to push the pace and is going to be first on the puck with Vinny and Purcell because they make plays. One is a shooter and we need to get the puck deep for Vinny to do his thing on the boards and that means we need somebody fast to push the pace fast in the neutral zone and be first on puck in the offensive zone.''

Thus far, Conacher has fit right in with his new linemates.

"He has a lot of speed and he is a very smart player,'' Lecavalier said. "I think we have connected right away.''

"It looks like he is hungry and is a guy that can make plays,'' Purcell said. "He's obviously done some good stuff in the AHL, and it's a big jump to the NHL but he looks like a guy that is capable of making it.''

As the last few days of training camp start to wind down, Conacher is not resting on his showing in last year's camp or his success last season in the AHL. He still has something toprove.

"It was important for me to have a good start to the year and show that I'm still hungry for the spot,'' Conacher said. "I was hungry at the start of the year hoping that the NHL would figure it out and they didn't . . . it's an honor to be here it's going to be a good week and hopefully I can do the little things of the coaches like and maybe I can stick around for a little while.''

Chances are he'll be for longer than that.

"We feel in the past year and a half in the American League that he is a top notch player,'' Boucher said. "But I like the fact that he's relentless, I liked that last year in camp and I like that again.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: erlendssonTBO

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