In the six years since Tampa Bay selected Brett Connolly with the sixth overall pick, the big winger’s numbers haven’t matched his draft status.
In fact, he hasn’t put up more than 25 points in a season.
But as he gets going with the Capitals — his third NHL team in two years — Connolly sounds optimistic that this will be the season he turns potential into offensive production.
“I think the style that they play here is going to play well into my hands,” Connolly said Saturday. “That’s kind of my game — skating, shooting, making plays. So far, so good. I like the way they play, their systems and their style. I think it’s a matter of putting it together consistently, and if I can do that, then I can have a good year, open their eyes and help this team win.”
The Capitals hope to tap into the upside Connolly was unable to show in Tampa and Boston. The Bruins did not extend the 24-year-old a qualifying offer this summer after he notched nine goals and 16 assists in 71 games last season. A few days later, Washington signed Connolly to a one-year, $850,000 contract on July 1.
“There were a lot guys this year that didn’t get [qualifying offers],” Connolly said. “I think the market in the league was a little bit deflated this year. It’s all a business. …I thought I was [going to be qualified], but things change. What are you going to do? I was fortunate Washington called right away and I didn’t really have to worry about it too much in the summer. As I said before, it was a no brainer. No matter what the money looks like, it’s the opportunity.”
Associate coach Todd Reirden sees the deal being beneficial for the player and the team, which needs more offense from its bottom six forwards.
“We feel as an organization that he’s a guy [whose] game is on the rise," Reirden said. "We feel like we’re getting him at a good time. Sometimes players go through some difficult times and struggles and you can get real fortunate as an organization to pick this guy and get a bit of a gem. …Our system of play is designed for a player of his ability.”
Connolly said he hasn’t been told exactly where the coaches see him fitting into the lineup. But the next week is critical for him; with preseason games on Monday and Tuesday and four top-six forwards out due to the World Cup, it’s likely he’ll pick up some of those prime minutes at even strength and on the power play.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Reirden said.
Said Connolly: “My play is going [to determine] where I’m going to play. Just be a little bit more offensive, I think. They talked about the third line and [needing] the bottom six guys chipping in a little more. I’m a guy who can step into the power play and use my shot and chip in offensively. It’s just a matter of being good defensively.”
Connolly didn’t gloss over the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the hype. But he also made sure to use the word “yet” when asked about it.
“When you’re drafted high, there’s expectations,” he said. “Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m still very confident in my abilities. There’s been some good times. There’s been some not so good times. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”
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