WILMINGTON, Mass. – Brett Connolly has no shortage of motivation headed into his first full season with the Boston Bruins.
The 23-year-old was traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Bruins at last spring’s trade deadline and shortly thereafter, a Dennis Seidenberg shot busted up his finger in just his second practice with his new team.
“It was a weird year,” said Connolly, accurately describing his first few months in Boston.
Connolly managed to rack up a couple of assists in a handful of games at the end of the season but Boston missed the playoffs in collapsing fashion. The big right winger missed a chance to make a real impression on the organization, the fans and his own teammates with just those five appearances while shaking off the injury rust.
Interestingly enough, Connolly opted for a one-year contract as a restricted free agent for slightly over $1 million with the Bruins and now finds himself with plenty of fresh motivation to prove people wrong. A good season will bring him a healthy, bigger contract, and it will be a stick salute to those he feels might have bailed on him as a player prematurely.
“Yeah…obviously it’s something that just wasn’t meant to be,” said Connolly of his departure from the Lightning. “It was something where they felt that I was a guy they could move and get something for. Steve [Yzerman] chose to move me obviously. I was in the organization for a while, and didn’t have as much success as I obviously would have liked to have. But that’s the good thing about change. I’m really excited to be here [in Boston], and I can’t wait to get going.
“There are a lot of people out there, including Tampa, that I want to prove wrong. That started yesterday and today, and I’m looking to have a good year.”
Clearly Connolly is betting on himself with the one-year contract, and he finds himself in the first real open forward situation of his career. He could land anywhere, from the top line skating with David Krejci as a right wing gunner, to a big-bodied compliment to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or on the third line with a player -- Ryan Spooner -- that he skated with on tournament teams during their Canadian youth.
Whichever spot Connolly fills in on the right side it would be some place where he can use his size and skills to finally score some goals.
Certainly the Bruins envisioned another player in Connolly that could give them some Nathan Horton-like qualities on the right side, but he’ll have to show it where it matters most: on the ice. He was a 30-goal guy in the AHL, but Connolly hasn’t really enjoyed a legitimate chance to show what kind of front line player he could be in the NHL.
Connolly was simply a third line spare part among a stacked group of Tampa Bay forwards despite being the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, and managed just 12 goals and 15 points in 55 games for Tampa and Boston combined last year. So now the six-foot-two, 193-pounder knows the onus is on him to win a job in training camp on one of the top three lines, prove that he deserves power play time with his strong right shot and start realizing his full potential once and for all.
“I kind of wanted a one-year deal to prove to the organization that I want to be [in Boston] long term, and also to prove that I can play a big role on this team,” said Connolly. “I was very happy with that, and I’m really excited to get this year going.
“Last year I had a few injuries, but I had a really good summer, worked hard and think I’m coming into camp here in good shape. I’m looking to have a good training camp and get off to a good start. That’s not only what I’m focused on, but the team too: to get off to a good start, so I’m chomping at the bit right away here in training camp.”
With Connolly, David Pastrnak and Jimmy Hayes, the Bruins should be equally excited to see what they have on their new look right side, and the former Tampa Bay winger should play a big role there while proving plenty on the ice.