TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning roster decisions ultimately came down to keeping the older of the young players.
Tampa Bay made final training camp cuts Sunday, sending No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin back to his junior team and former sixth overall pick Brett Connolly down to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.
Tampa Bay also reassigned forwards J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov, along with defensemen Dmitry Korobov and J.P. Cote to Syracuse. Goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis was assigned to Florida in the East Coast Hockey League.
In addition, forwards Dana Tyrell and Mike Angelidis and defenseman Matt Taormina were placed on waivers for the purpose of reassigning them to Syracuse if they clear by noon today.
Final rosters are due to the league by 3 p.m., but Tampa Bay has 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders.
In sending Drouin back, general manager Steve Yzerman said the team is ensured he will continue to play top minutes in Halifax and likely will be part of Canada's World Junior team while continuing to develop.
“We felt if Jonathan isn't going to get the ice time (in Tampa) we want him to based on what we've seen to date, then we prefer him playing in junior and getting a ton of ice time,'' Yzerman said. “He'll be a year older and a year more mature and physically developed and be in a better position to make our team and play significant minutes next year.
“Again, with our young guys I want them playing a lot of minutes. I don't want them sitting in the stands. I don't want them playing in the fourth-line role with us.''
That was a big part of the decision to send Connolly, who led the team with four goals in preseason play, back to Syracuse while retaining top prospects Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat.
That trio, which has comprised the top line for the Lightning's top minor-league affiliate the past two seasons, likely will fill the third line when the season opens Thursday in Boston.
“They are more ready, in our opinion,'' Yzerman said. “I believe there is a process to this whole thing, and our intention is to keep Richard, Tyler and Ondrej. They have played two years in the American Hockey League, they have been very good players in the American Hockey League, elite players, and it's time to move them into the NHL. They had good training camps, as well.''
That didn't make the sting any less for Connolly, who did everything the team has asked of him in the past year and developed into a promising prospect.
“I've never really been cut like this. It kind of hit me out of left field a little bit,'' Connolly said. “I thought I played well enough for them not to really be able to send me down, but it's out of my control.
“I'm happy with the way I played. I know I'm a good player, and I won't worry about that one bit.''
Tampa Bay also opted to retain defensemen Mark Barberio, who would have to clear waivers to be sent to Syracuse, and 6-foot-8 Andrej Sustr, the prized college free agent signed out of Nebraska-Omaha at the end of last season who performed well in the postseason with Syracuse last season.
“It's time to see (Barberio) in the NHL. He has put in a lot of time and been a very good player for us and been very patient,'' Yzerman said. “It's important now that he get some playing time.
“And we just feel with Andrej, he has played well, he's a big guy and he was very good in the playoffs for Syracuse. He makes us a better team for the time being, and we'll see how he does from here.''