Thinking about all the "what ifs'' would be understood in Cory Conacher's case.
After making a strong impression during his first NHL training camp last year, the 22-year-old expected to make a strong push for a spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster this season. But the league imposed lockout did not allow for training camp this season, delaying Conacher's opportunity to try to earn an NHL job.
So the 2012 American Hockey League MVP reported directly to Syracuse, Tampa Bay's new AHL affiliate.
"I've lucked out to be able to play in Syracuse,'' he said. "I think for all of us down here, the whole year is our tryout, it's pretty much our camp the whole year until the NHL does end the lockout. So right now that's how I'm taking it.
Instead of sitting around and thinking about things he can't control, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound native of Burlington, Ontario, continues to focus on what he can do, and that's continue to work on his game so whenever the NHL does come back from its deep freeze, he'll be ready to once again make that strong impression to the Lightning brass.
Though Tampa Bay switched affiliates over the summer, moving from Norfolk where the most of the same group of minor league players won a championship last season, things have not changed for Conacher. He opened the season with a goal and two assists during an opening night shootout loss. Through eight games this season, Conacher leads the Crunch with six goals and 12 points, tied for third in the league.
It's all just part of the process to Conacher.
"I know everyone is going to be watching, all the management. So it's important for us young guys to continue to develop,'' he said. "So that's what I'm working on is to keep developing as a player and develop into a professional athlete. I'm still a young player and I have a lot to learn and this is a great year to do that.''
Conacher was the surprise of training camp last season, coming in as an invitee only signed to an AHL with Tampa Bay's then affiliate, Norfolk Admirals. But as camp went on, the Canisius College graduate continued to find his name on the exhibition game roster and often paired on one of the top lines and frequently with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis.
The impressions didn't end when camp ended and Conacher ended up down in the minor leagues.
By the end of the season, plenty around the hockey world knew exactly who Conacher was after he led the AHL in goals (39) and finished second in points (80) before being named league MVP as well as the Rookie of the Year. In the postseason, he finished tied for third in league scoring with 15 points, including four assists in the Calder Cup championship clinching victory against Toronto.
And instead of pouting about what could have been at the start of this season, Conacher continues to play his game, no matter where he is playing.
"I have a great team here in Syracuse, I have a lot of fun with these guys and the coaching staff gives me a great opportunity to play, especially during important times in the game,'' Conacher said. "I'm getting the chance to perform and it's really up to me to take advantage of that opportunity. That's how I see it right now.''
NHL LOCKOUT UPDATE
How long: Seven weeks
What has been missed to date: 10 Lightning games (six home, four road)
What will be lost next: Three home games — Thursday vs. Boston; Saturday vs. Ottawa; Tuesday vs. Carolina
LIGHTNING AFFILIATE UPDATE
(American Hockey League)
Record: 5-1-2; tied for first in East Division
Last week: Beat Adirondack 4-1
Leading scorers: Cory Conacher (6G, 6A), Tyler Johnson (6G, 3A), Ondrej Palat (1 G, 7A). Goaltenders: Dustin Tokarski (4-1-1, 2.13 GAA, .913 save percentage), Riku Helenius (1-1, 4.81 GAA, .824 save percentage)
The week ahead: Today at Hamilton; Friday vs. Hamilton (at Bell Centre, Montreal); Saturday vs. Rochester
(East Coast Hockey League)
Record: 3-4-2; last in South Division
Last week: Lost two games at Greenville; 3-1 on Saturday, 4-3 on Sunday
Lightning prospects: LW Alex Hutchings (0G, 5A), D Charles Landry (0G, 3A), D Dan Milan (2 games played), G Pat Nagle (2-1-1, 3.25 GAA, .892 save percentage)
The week ahead: Today and Friday vs. Elmira; Saturday vs. Gwinnett