When Brett Connolly joined the Capitals last year, he arrived on a one-year deal and without a guaranteed spot in the lineup.
When this year’s training camp gets underway, however, he’ll find himself in a much more settled situation: he’s now got the security of a two-year extension and a legitimate shot at earning a bigger role as the Caps look to replace a couple of top-six forwards.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to come to training camp and be comfortable,” said Connolly, whose previous three contracts were all one-year deals. “Now I can just go out and play.”
He added: “There’s going to be some openings in the lineup. It’s an exciting time for a lot of guys on this team.”
Connolly spoke to CSN on Friday morning following another well-attended informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In fact, 11 of the 12 forwards and six of the seven defensemen expected to make the opening night roster took part in the hour-long session. Both goalies were here, as well.
Connolly said he’s eager to build on a 2016-17 campaign that was interesting to say the least. The 25-year-old winger started out as a healthy scratch, then ended up a spectator as the Caps bowed out to the Penguins in the second round. In between, however, he netted a career-high 15 goals in 66 games while seeing an average of just 10:41—the least amount of ice time among the Caps’ full-time forwards.
“I had a good year last year,” he said. “I feel really good about my game. I just need to take that into this year, take advantage of this great opportunity that I’m going to be given and run with it. It’s another opportunity for me to gain some traction in this league and help this team win.”
Connolly’s personal goal for the upcoming season? Score at least 20 times.
“For me, being an offensive guy, 20 goals is kind of the benchmark,” he said. “I know last year my ice time was limited [but] we had a really good team and a lot of [depth] in the lineup. I had to be a little patient there and just do my part, do my role. Last year was all about winning [the Cup] and obviously everybody knows we didn’t get that done. But this year will be a little different. Twenty goals is definitely doable for me.”
Training camp starts next Friday with the grueling conditioning test that tripped up Connolly a year ago. This summer he tweaked his training to avoid a repeat of that—and to help him evolve with a game that seemingly gets faster every year.
“I did a little more conditioning, a little more speed,” Connolly said of his summer routine. “The game is changing so much. …I’m in good shape right now and I’m ready to go.”
And he’ll need to be. Indeed, with Justin Williams in Carolina and Marcus Johansson in New Jersey, there will be no shortage of forwards jockeying for jobs and/or promotions.
“Everybody knows that this training camp is going to be different than years past,” Connolly said. “In years past, the team was [already] picked. There were so many good players and good veteran guys who had their spots secured, it was hard for some guys in this organization who were just waiting for their chance. I’ve been there. The last couple of years were not easy for those guys. But this year there’s a handful of guys that are coming in and they’re chomping at the bit and ready to go.”
“Guys are going to be battling and competing for spots,” he continued. “Guys are going to be pushing the guys that were here last year.”
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