With the Florida Panthers’ season starting in just under ten days from now, training camp and the preseason are almost over. However, there is still some work to be done for 23-year old Connor Brickley who is fighting for one of the few NHL roster spots up for grabs this year.
Connor Brickley was drafted by the Panthers in the 2nd-round of the 2010 Draft, the first overseen by GM Dale Tallon. Management was impressed with Brickley’s energetic and hard-nosed style of play, and Tallon admitted that his hard check on Erik Gudbranson during the U18 World Championships not only left a mark on the 3rd-overall selection but also on the team, leading them to draft him without hesitation. After Brickley’s 43-point performance in the USHL and solid showing with the United States U18 team during his draft year, the Panthers had no choice but to have high hopes for the Massachusetts-native.
“Anybody that would run at [Gudbranson] has got to be fearless and nuts.” – Dale Tallon on Connor Brickley
After the draft, Brickley headed to the University of Vermont where he played 4 years of mostly underwhelming hockey compared to his one season in the USHL. His college career was marked by several injuries, including a cut to his leg and forearm, as well as four consecutive team finishes near the bottom of the league. Brickley showed some promise during his senior year when he totaled 15 points in 35 games, but overall, there was not much to be seen from the 6’1″, 195-pound forward. After his senior year ended, he headed to the San Antonio Rampage where he tallied a goal and assist in 8 games and then signed a 2-year deal with the Panthers in late April of 2014. He began to turn heads at the Panthers’ training camp in 2014, but it was during his first season in the AHL where he flipped the switch, producing 47 points in 73 games with the Rampage. His 22 goals were good for 3rd on the team in scoring and tied him for 2nd in the league for goals scored by a rookie.
“I knew where I stood early on and I knew that I had a lot to prove coming out of college. I knew that what I can bring is a high-energy forward and I just wanted to put that on display early and get the respect of my teammates and my coaches,” said Brickley at this year’s training camp.
Brickley bursted onto the scene this preseason with his strong play in the rookie tournament against Washington, Nashville, and Tampa in Estero, Florida just a couple of weeks ago. He scored the Panthers’ first goal of the tournament with a hard wrist shot from the high slot after walking into the zone, and he went on to score his second and third goals of the tournament in their games against the Predators and Lightning respectively.
“He always came up with the big goals for us in San Antonio, it’s good to see him carry it over. He can cause a lot of havoc with physical play and put the puck in the net at the right time,” said Portland Pirates head coach Tom Rowe after the Panthers’ rookie tournament game against Nashville.
Brickley’s impressive performance in the rookie tournament gave him an edge when this year’s training camp officially began a couple of weeks ago. He currently leads the team with 2 preseason goals in three games played and it’s likely he’ll play in the Panthers’ final preseason game against Tampa on Saturday. Brickley has survived three roster cuts so far (and rightfully so) which have reduced the team to just 27 players. With Rocco Grimaldi expected to start the season on the injured list, that puts the roster at 26 players and the final cuts will bring it to 23, according to Dale Tallon. In addition to Brickley, the other players still in the mix include Quinton Howden, Lawson Crouse, Garrett Wilson, and Martin Havlat, as well as a couple of defensemen. It’s almost certain that Crouse will be given his 9-game tryout so that leaves just two more roster spots, and if Brickley’s preseason performance is any indication, he’ll likely grab one of them.
Brickley’s developmental spurt has been great to witness and it’ll undoubtedly earn him a bottom-6 spot whether it be at the start of the season or as a call-up. His offensive production has been somewhat surprising considering he was fairly quiet all throughout college, but it couldn’t have come at a better time with the Panthers looking to finally take that elusive next step. There’s no doubt he’ll bring several important elements to an already young and talented lineup.