The Washington Capitals went into the 2016-17 offseason looking for more depth and scoring from their bottom six. They decided to take a chance on winger Brett Connolly, 2010’s sixth-overall draft pick, signing him to a low-risk, one-year deal worth about $850,000.
There were high hopes for the former top prospect. The 24-year old managed nine goals and 25 points last year with the Boston Bruins. He also brought a lot of physicality while playing with Boston, recording 137 hits through 71 games with the team. Connolly also had two 50-point campaigns in the AHL, though that high-scoring success didn’t necessarily carry over to the NHL. Overall, with his strong two-way game, decent scoring numbers and overall upside, there was little that could go wrong with this off-season deal.
A Rough Start
Throughout his entire career, Connolly has had to deal with failing to live up to expectations. Ever since he was taken as one of the top 10 picks in 2010, Connolly has had to manage plenty of pressure on his shoulders. Not only did he struggle with injuries while making it to the NHL, he could only really put up decent numbers in the minor and junior leagues. When it came to carrying that high scoring over to the big club, Connolly couldn’t take that extra step up.
This season, Connolly struggled greatly to start the year with the Capitals and had to fight to stay in the lineup. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound winger didn’t seem to work well on the bottom-six or in creating plays and managed just four goals and a single assist through the first three months of the season.
Mainly playing on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller, Connolly didn’t exactly have chemistry with his unit to start the year. In fact, he found himself confused and floundered when it came to adjusting to Washington’s game and finding his role on the team. Considering the arsenal of talent on the Capitals roster, it was obvious Connolly had to find time to adjust and work with his new teammates, while also finding his stride.
Finding His Stride
When it comes to Connolly’s game, he has definitely found his edge and has started to develop into a solid bottom-six winger. He is driving to the net and jumping on loose pucks, and he also has more confidence and physicality when pushing into the offensive zone. Connolly has found more speed and stride and has a clearer vision when he’s on the ice.
“…He’s been skating really well,” head coach Barry Trotz said in a February interview with the Washington Post. “He’s got great hockey IQ. He’s got a great release. There’s a lot of things to like about Brett’s game. I think it took him a while to get sort of into our organization. It took him a while to assimilate, and he has.”
Not only has he stepped it up physically, but mentally he appears to beam with confidence. He has no problem matching up against his opponents and appears more poised and sure of himself. This not only helps him when it comes to never giving up on the play but when he’s seeping with confidence and star-power, he becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Connolly has tied his career high with 12 goals this season and has 17 points this season. He is currently riding a five-game point streak, where he’s put up five goals and seven points in each game this February. He appears to have learned to do more with the puck and makes the most of his time. Not to mention, with his unrelenting determination and will to win, he fights for the puck wherever he is and makes the most of his time on the ice.
If Connolly continues to play the way he has been, he will most certainly earn a contract extension from the Capitals. He has gone from a low-risk transaction to an asset on the team’s bottom-six. He has been providing a huge amount of scoring for the team in that area and has given the Capitals something the team has been lacking for years — scoring and offense all the way down the forward lines.
Not only has he been scoring, but Connolly has proven his worth when it comes to special teams and backchecking. He can take away the puck and maintain possession — he has given the puck away just nine times this season, and always looks after when he has it. With that being said, Connolly has come full circle, which is great for Washington as they hope 2017 is the year they make a serious Cup run.
“Right now, everybody knows we have a good chance, it’s just a matter of putting it together and real playing for each other,” Connolly told the Washington Times. “We can definitely do it, there’s no question. We got to keep working and get a couple breaks in second half and the playoffs, and we’ll see what happens. It could be a lot of fun.”
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.