When he was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning were hoping that Brett Connolly would eventually turn out to be one of Steven Stamkos’ primary linemates. That was not meant to be, however, as injuries and constant trips back and forth to and from the minors hindered his growth and development down south.
Ultimately, Connolly would get a new home and a fresh perspective when former Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired him at last season’s trade deadline. Yet, the setbacks continued for the Campbell River, British Columbia, born product as he got injured in his very first practice for the Black and Gold after taking a Dennis Seidenberg slap shot to the wrist.
Connolly returned for the final five games of the 2014-15 season where he tallied two assists. That was enough in the eyes of new GM Don Sweeney to earn him a one-year contract in the off-season.
With something to prove, Connolly was hoping to get off to a good start in 2015-16 on a line with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes. But the inconsistencies of that trio hindered them early on, especially for Connolly, who was a minus-4 and only had one assist in his first four games. The former Lightning forward found himself facing adversity again and was deemed a healthy scratch by Claude Julien in Arizona last Saturday.
An upper body injury to Matt Beleskey, however, forced Julien to insert Connolly back to the lineup. But instead of going back to his usual spot on the third line, the ninth year Bruins bench boss decided to move him to the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
So far, the move has paid off. Since his return to the lineup against the Flyers last Wednesday, Connolly has a goal in each of his last three games. He is skating hard and finding open lanes to fire his patented shot that the Lightning coveted when they selected him in the first round.
“He’s been scoring some goals and he’s been a good fit so far on that line [with Bergeron and Marchand],” Julien said following the B’s 6-0 win over the Coyotes on Tuesday. “His skill level is starting to show right now. He’s got a good shot – we’ve said that all along – big body, good skater. It’s nice to see him pick up his pace there.”
From Mark Recchi to Tyler Seguin to Loui Eriksson to even Reilly Smith, we’ve seen different players develop good chemistry with Marchand and Bergeron. Whether it’s Marchand playing with an edge or Bergeron’s two-way prowess, the third member of that unit has kept up with the duo to give the B’s a solid presence in their top-six.
How does Connolly see his role with Bergeron and Marchand?
“When I’m with those guys, I’m just trying to be hard on the forecheck and get open,” said Connolly, who scored his third of the season at 10:22 of the third period on Tuesday. “Those are two guys that are very consistent they work hard every shift, and you got to match that every shift. They’re two guys that have been in the league a long time and won. Two guys I obviously look up to and I want to give them my best game every time I’m on the ice. It’s helped me for sure playing with those guys.”
At 23, Connolly still has some time to prove to himself and the Bruins that he belongs in the NHL. Staying with Bergeron and Marchand would only help the cause going forward.
“He’s got all the assets to be a really, really good player in this league,” Marchand said about Connolly. “You know, the good thing about him he’s really quick to get into positions that have a scoring opportunity and when he’s there he doesn’t miss very often, so I think he’s fit in really well and we’re improving every day. We’re trying to build the chemistry, and I think it’s been good.”
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