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Campbell's Cuts: Hip injury makes Brett Connolly a draft-day wildcard

Brett Connolly scored 10 goals and 19 points in 16 games this season with the WHL's Prince George Cougars. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

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Brett Connolly scored 10 goals and 19 points in 16 games this season with the WHL's Prince George Cougars. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA – Brett Connolly welcomes the opportunity to be poked, prodded and grilled over the next three weeks leading up to the NHL draft in Los Angeles.

The Prince George Cougars right winger might be the most skilled player in this year’s draft. ‘Might’ being the operative word because he played just 16 games this season with hip flexor problems. He originally tweaked his hip at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament last summer and came back too soon. It wasn’t long before he injured his other hip because he was overcompensating for the original injury.

“It was the first big injury of my career, so it was definitely tough,” said Connolly, who was on hand for Game 4 of the final along with other top prospects Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Erik Gudbranson and Cam Fowler. “The team wasn’t doing very well and with the pressures of the draft, I sometimes wonder whether I didn’t come back too soon. It was a good learning experience for me.”

Connolly scored 10 goals and 19 points in the games he played this past season, following up on a year in which he was the first 16-year-old in the Western League to score 30 goals since Patrick Marleau did it in 1995-96.

All of which makes Connolly an enormous wildcard in this year’s draft. If his health problems are behind him as he says they are, he boasts enormous potential. But hip problems can often return and nag a player for years, something to which Marian Gaborik can attest.

“I’m ready to see the doctors and I have nothing to hide,” Connolly said. “I’m looking forward to getting this all out of the way. My hips are 100 percent now and I’ve had a couple of really good months of working out. I feel great.”

Connolly’s skill level will certainly keep him in the top 10 in the draft. The New York Islanders, who pick fifth, have showed interest, as have the No. 9 Minnesota Wild.

As far as the No. 1 overall pick, it’s as much up in the air as ever between Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers. Both players are scheduled to go to Boston Saturday to meet with the Bruins and have interviews coming up with the Edmonton Oilers next week. The management from both teams has paid a visit to each player’s home as well.

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The Bruins and Oilers have talked about possibly swapping picks, but this is a seminal moment for the Oilers, not unlike the Islanders who last year selected John Tavares over Matt Duchene at first overall. The Islanders debated the pick seriously and there is a sense they chose Tavares to appease their fan base. Will the Oilers do the same thing by taking Hall, or will they project down the road and perhaps consider Seguin, a center who does everything well and may need a bit more time?

“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” Seguin said when asked if the players have any indication what will happen. “I’ve asked Hall the same thing and I don’t know if he’d tell me if he knew, but I bought my draft suit this past weekend and I got a nice black one just because it’s neutral. I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t think anyone knows.”

Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily blogs until a champion is crowned.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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