Brett Connolly May Stick in Boston

When Brett Connolly was acquired for two second round picks at the trade deadline, there wasn’t a lot of positive reaction to the trade.

The unrest dated back to early October 2014, when the Boston Bruins traded defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for two second-round picks and a conditional third — although, one could argue that it truly dated back to the summer of 2013, when the Bruins sent Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars for Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson. As Boychuk and Seguin shone on their new teams, the Bruins struggled to get even a compensatory offensive output from Smith and Eriksson — and when defenseman Kevan Miller was shut down for the season (leaving Matt Bartkowski to largely fill his shoes), there was little about Boston’s on-ice product that resembled the last few seasons.

Back to Brett Connolly.

Boston fans were simultaneously unimpressed in Chiarelli’s lack of movement at the trade deadline and unimpressed with the moves that he did make — which included trading slumping first-round prospect Jordan Caron for veteran depth forward fourth liner, and bringing in Connolly on the aforementioned draft pick deal. The team held on to their first-round pick in among a weak trade deadline selection, but the leftover resentment from an unimpressive off-season bubbled over — and Connolly got the brunt of it.

Drafted in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly was Tampa Bay’s selection just shortly after Boston picked up Seguin.

Although his draft class brings up bitter memories for Boston fans, though, the six foot two right wing brings an edge no one was really expecting. A hip injury the season prior to being draft eligible left Connolly a little worse for wear, but he slowly found his game in the seasons following being selected sixth overall.

At the time Tampa Bay brought him on board, Connolly was meant to be a ‘pure offensive talent’. He was the hopeful future linemate of an already-dominant Steven Stamkos — the Patrick Kane to his Jonathan Toews, so to speak — who would bring size to the Tampa Bay lineup and drive the physical play so the first overall center wouldn’t have to.

Things didn’t go quite as planned for Connolly, though. Originally considered a prospect who would provide an immediate impact with the club, Connolly had trouble adjusting his game to fit at the NHL level. He couldn’t seem to find his footing — in his rookie year, the forward recorded only four goals and eleven assists in sixty-eight games with Tampa Bay — and would swing from multi-point nights against the Dallas Stars to barely keeping up and earning reassignment to the AHL for more conditioning.

By the time he finally started to shine — prior to getting dealt to Boston, Connolly had contributed with twelve goals and three helpers in fifty games with Tampa, pushing out two game winners and two power-play tallies — the team had found ways to make up for the game he’d seemingly lost. Ryan Callahan had been brought in to replace Martin St. Louis (something Connolly had once been a dark horse to do) and Tyler Johnson, Odrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov made up the new group of talented young offensive stars for the Florida franchise. Although it looked like Connolly was finally breaking out, he had nowhere to go — so Boston brought him on board.

A broken finger in practice before ever suiting up in a game with the Bruins spoiled what could have been a strong entrance for the 22-year-old forward, but he’s finally managed to suit up for four games — and although Boston fans still aren’t sold, his two helpers hint at good things to come.

If there’s anything to be said for the way that Connolly has played since arriving in Boston, it’s that he’s eager. The right wing — who, aside from Reilly Smith, now serves as one of the team’s only true right wings in the lineup — is becoming a bit too crash-and-bang (he’s found his way to the penalty box for a grand total of ten minutes over four games, all minor penalties) as he tries to earn his keep and push the floundering Bruins into the postseason. He’s fast, if a bit unrefined and still not quite clicking on the Boston roster — and at twenty-two, he’s still young enough to earn his keep in time.

After his slow start in Tampa, Connolly did little to earn much of a pay raise — so he’s currently providing a cheap, somewhat reliable option for Boston’s extremely weak right side on offense. He’s an RFA this summer, and doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on if he wants to see more than the league-mandated minimum pay increase with his next contract offer. He’s still not much more than a potential redemption story, so he’s not likely to find a multi-million dollar deal elsewhere — and his finger injury to start off his tenure in Boston, compounded with limited minutes and games in Tampa, give him a weak case in the instance he elects to head to arbitration.

For the Bruins, adding a low risk right wing who knows how to play ‘pure offense’ — even if he sometimes gets a little to wild on the ice and ends up slowing down to overcompensate — can be nothing but a good thing. Talbot is a loaner, nothing more — and with Caron gone, the Bruins need a solid-bodied depth forward, at the very least. He’s a faster shooter and less of a second-guesser than Caron was (with sky-high possession stats in comparison), so he’ll likely eventually find some chemistry on a line and hopefully chug forward.

On the current Bruins roster, he actually ranks fourth in SAT Relative among skaters with qualifying games played — behind only Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. The skaters who stand right below him on the team’s list? Dougie Hamilton and the infamous Reilly Smith — who skates on a line with Boston’s two best possession players on a regular basis. For a guy who brings bottom-six minutes, one could argue that Connolly is using his stats from Tampa Bay to falsely elevate his defensive relative impact on the team — but with a 5.2 SATRel%, his defensive impact on both teams likely suggests that he’s a better player than many would assume.

He was trapped in a depth chart in Tampa Bay by his own late developement, but Boston could be the lucky benefactors — and eventually, after David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly may be the next best thing to come out of a lackluster season.

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