While Boston Bruins fans were sleeping, Peter Chiarelli was up late into the night trying to improve his hockey club.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 2, 2015
The first official deal of the National Hockey League’s trade deadline day belonged to the Bruins, acquiring right-winger Brett Connolly from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Boston’s second-round draft picks for this season and 2016. The sixth-overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft has scored 12 goals and three assists in 50 games with the Bolts this season. Connolly has 18 goals and 14 assists in 134 career NHL games.
“I see a top-six forward”, Chiarelli said in his press conference Monday afternoon. He made mention of Connolly’s “shoot-first” mentality, range with the puck, a net-front presence, and his quick release when talking about him with the media.
The British Columbia native has had a rough go since being drafted four spots after former Bruin Tyler Seguin. Connolly scored four goals and 15 points in 68 games during his 2011-12 rookie season with the Lightning. He spent the better part of the next two seasons with the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League. Connolly showed his potential in the minors, scoring 120 points (52 goals, 68 assists) in 137 games with Tampa’s AHL affiliate. This season, the third-year pro had found a home with the Bolts as a third-line winger playing alongside Valtteri Filppula and rookie Cedric Paquette.
In their scouting report of Connolly, The Hockey News says he “has outstanding scoring ability and a very projectable frame…can play either wing position effectively…hockey sense is an asset in the attacking zone.” All those qualities bode well for a Bruins squad that ranks 21st in goals-per-game this season (2.63).
Hope @bconnolly8 is brushing up on his Swedish. Barring other moves, it'll be Connolly-Soderberg-Eriksson.
— Matt Kalman (@MattKalman) March 2, 2015
Connolly is likely to slot in with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson for the time being on Boston’s third line. The recent chemistry generated between Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner, and rookie David Pastrnak have formed a top line combining size, speed, and skill, adding a new dynamic in the absence of David Krejci. The second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Reilly Smith have been together for the better part of two seasons.
Connolly could be in line for some playing time alongside Lucic and Krejci after the first-line center recovers from a partially torn MCL in his knee. One of Boston’s pressing needs at the deadline this season was to acquire a top-six winger who could score consistently. The 22-year-old has demonstrated his finishing ability this season, scoring on 16.2% of his shots. It may be unrealistic to expect him to keep that number up given his career shooting percentage is at 9.5%, but he is still young and is showing flashes of the scoring touch that made him a top-10 pick five years ago.
From a financial perspective, Connolly is on a one-year, two-way contract paying him just over 850K for this season. He will be a restricted free agent in the summer, adding another player to Boston’s RFA list which includes Smith, Torey Krug, and blossoming star Dougie Hamilton. Chiarelli liked the potential Connolly possesses to be a long-term fit with the club, possibly at the expense of the 23-year-old Smith who has taken a step back after his 51-point season last year came as a pleasant surprise to everyone involved with the Bruins.
Can't express how excited I am for the opportunity to join the @NHLBruins. Looking forward to getting to Boston.
— Brett Connolly (@bconnolly8) March 2, 2015
Trading away two second-round picks is a bit of a gamble for a player who is a “talented, yet inconsistent scoring winger” with some injury concerns dating back to 2009-10, but it is a calculated gamble by Chiarelli in trying to improve his club for not only this season, but for the future as well.
The player that Red Line Report compared to Patrick Marleau in terms of skill set when Connolly was drafted has the next 20 games to show Boston that he should be a part of their long-term plans beyond this season.