When he returned to the ice and made his debut April 2 against the Detroit Red Wings, it was evident the former sixth overall draft pick was comfortable playing the Bruins’ style of hockey.
“Yeah, for sure. I think that it’s a good fit for myself,” Connolly said in April when asked about the Bruins’ system. “Obviously you want to get in the playoffs, and I felt like I had a lot more hockey in me, but these things happen, and like I said before, we’ll work on some things in the offseason, get better and come back stronger next year.”
Connolly is a restricted free agent July 1. Assuming he’s re-signed, he has an opportunity to become a top-six right winger next season, a role that wasn’t available to him with the Lightning because of their incredible forward depth.
“It’s one of those things, you get in five games, you miss a month. I felt good, it was just tough as a team,” Connolly said. “We had a chance to win a couple games down the stretch in the last few games to get in the playoffs. We didn’t do that.
“For myself, I think that it was very encouraging. I’m in a good situation here, and it’s a good opportunity. Obviously next year, come back, have a good summer and come back in good shape to have an impact and to be a go-to guy on this team. I understand it’s a big summer for myself and a very important training camp, just to have a good start next year. Hopefully we can get off to a good start, and not be feeling like this at this time of year next year.”
Connolly will have plenty of competition for a top-six role. Loui Eriksson, David Pastrnak, Reilly Smith, Seth Griffith and perhaps others are expected to compete for the two spots. Connolly will have as good of a chance as anyone to win the job, though. He blends good offensive skill with a physical style of play, and in addition to his excellent shot, he’s willing to go to the front of the net and battle for puck possession in the dirty areas.
The 22-year-old forward tallied two assists in the last five games of the season and the Bruins controlled 57.27 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Connolly was on the ice, which is impressive considering the amount of bottom-six ice time he received. He finished the season with 12 goals and five assists in 55 games. His 1.13 goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play ranked 22nd among all forwards.
Even if Connolly begins the 2015-16 campaign as the third-line right winger, that’s still an advantage for Boston because it will give the team more scoring depth than it had this season. The Bruins ranked 22nd in goals scored after finishing third in 2013-14, and one of the reasons for this decrease was a lack of consistent scoring production from the third and fourth lines outside of Eriksson.
A healthy Connolly would be a huge boost to a Bruins team that must be more efficient offensively to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs next season.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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