Top 25 Under 25, no. 8: Cory Conacher
A distant relative of Hall of Famers Lionel, Charlie, and Roy Conacher, Cory played four seasons at Canisius College. He was invited to Tampa Bay's training camp in 2011-2012 and signed a contract with the Norfolk Admirals, Tampa's AHL affiliate. With the Admirals, Conacher had a breakout season, leading the AHL in goals with 39 and finishing second in points with 80. After helping Norfolk to a Calder Cup championship in 2012, he was named the AHL's Rookie of the Year and was awarded the Les Cunningham MVP trophy.
He signed a two-year deal with the Lightning in March, 2012 on the basis of his standout season with the Admirals. Conacher continued his strong play in the first half of the 2012-2013 season with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. In 36 games, he scored 12 goals and 28 points. His transitioned smoothly to the NHL when he joined the Lightning, making his NHL debut skating on a line with Steven Stamkos. Acquired by Ottawa as part of the Ben Bishop deal, Conacher finished his rookie season with 9 goals and 24 points in 35 games.
However, it's not all positive. After his blistering start to the season, Conacher cooled off considerably. By March, his ice time had been dramatically reduced. As our friends at Raw Charge noticed on March 10,
"Cory Conacher registered a measly 8:34 of ice-time in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He only had 10 shifts by the end of the second period and 14 total for the game, a significant decline in ice time for the Calder trophy candidate when compared to his 15:09 TOI average this season."
Conacher's ice time improved during his time in Ottawa and while he didn't reach the highs of his first two months in Tampa, he managed nearly 13 minutes per game for the Senators. Still, Conacher doesn't seem to have earned head coach Paul MacLean's trust yet - training camp and a full season adjusting to Ottawa's system and players should help.
His play in the Montreal series illustrates that Conacher has the potential to develop into an effective agitator/pest player in the NHL. He visibly irritated several Canadiens players in the crucial third game of that series. Playing with that kind of edge more often will help Conacher cement his place in the lineup. While he has the potential to be a top-six player for the Sens, bouncing between the second and third lines seems realistic for a player entering his first full season in the NHL.