Off-Season Targets: Brett Connolly

Off-Season Targets: Brett Connolly

Oilers

Off-Season Targets: Brett Connolly

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Once a highly regarded prospect that went sixth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Brett Connolly’s career has taken the long road. He never established himself with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and was traded to the Boston Bruins for a pair of second-round picks at the 2015 trade deadline.

He only scored nine goals for the Bruins in 2015-16, and GM Don Sweeney let him walk as a result. In the summer of 2016, trying to repair his value, Connolly made his way to Washington. He hasn’t scored less than 15 goals in a season since then and finally looks like the top-six forward everyone thought he would be on draft day.

Connolly will hit free agency this July, and could be a nice fit for the Oilers on a relatively fair contract.

Why Is He Out There?:

After being a buy-low free agent for the Caps in the summer of 2016, Connolly has been nothing but consistent for them in his three seasons with the club. He scored 15 goals in each the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, then popped a career-high 22 this past season.

He was a value deal for the Caps, counting just $1,500,000 against the cap in 2018-19. He is going to get a raise on that dollar amount in the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The Caps already have $78,900,000 committed to their 2019-20 roster and will be looking to make improvements after a first round exit. They must also re-sign RFA’s Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky, along with UFA’s Brooks Orpik and Carl Hagelin.

It’s going to be a tight squeeze, and there simply might not be enough money for someone like Connolly to stick around.

What Does He Do Well?:

Quietly, Connolly has emerged as a strong top-six forward with goal scoring ability. His 22 goals this past season was a career-high, and as mentioned above he hasn’t scored less than 15 goals in each of the last three seasons. Now, many will argue that is because he is playing with high-end skill players. In Edmonton, he’d be lining up with a Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. No need to worry.

Connolly was a positive possession player this past season, posting a 50.1% Corsi For at five-on-five (+1.4% Corsi Rel). His Fenwick For at five-on-five wasn’t as strong, 49.2%, but was still positive relative to his teammates (+.2%).

Connolly’s 22 goal season wasn’t a result of an insane shooting percentage either. He shot 15.8% on 139 shots, slightly above his career 13.6% mark. Overall, Connolly attempted 243 shots on the season, proving to be a volume shooter for a strong Capitals’ offense. Edmonton needs someone who fires shots with the volume Connolly does.

21 of his 22 goals came at five-on-five, as Connolly was a relative non-factor when it came to the Washington powerplay. His even strength goal scoring ability is extremely appealing, and one wonders if his numbers could skyrocket with powerplay time in Edmonton.

All numbers are via hockey-reference.

Here’s a look at Connolly’s scouting report via The Sports Forecaster.

Has outstanding scoring ability and a very projectable frame. Can play either wing position effectively. His hockey sense is very much an asset in the attacking zone. Injuries are a factor with him. Needs to bulk up and fill out in order to maximize his scoring potential in the NHL. Also needs to become a more consistent and assertive player.

Long Range Potential:

Talented, inconsistent winger, when healthy.

Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:

Connolly, throughout the course of the last three seasons, has established himself as a top-six forward. He can provide offense, has a scorer’s touch and does a good job winning battles and playing along the boards. Ideally, he’s a second-line right winger.

In Edmonton, he could be a candidate to line up alongside Draisaitl and McDavid, giving Edmonton a stacked top line. I also think Connolly could be a great running mate for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second line. Either way, he’d handle a top-six role in Edmonton at even strength. He probably garners more powerplay time with the Oil as well.

What Will He Cost?:

Without a doubt, Connolly will be getting some term and a raise on this contract. I don’t think a four-year deal worth $4,250,000 – $4,500,000 is out of the question. He’s been a consistent 15-20 goal scorer the last three seasons, is still only 27 and does a lot of the little things well.

He’s not the sexy name, but Connolly is a really good player that has earned a respectable contract in the NHL after appearing to be on the cusp of falling out of the league.

Closing Argument:

I have to give a lot of credit to friend of the blog Lowetide. He was the first one who mentioned Connolly as a target, and the more I read up on him the more I liked him. Connolly is not going to break the bank, would fill a top-six role for the Oilers, and adds a much needed even strength goal scorer to the fold.

Will Connolly come here and push the Oilers to the playoffs in 2020? No, he won’t, but he’s a very nice piece that gets Edmonton closer to accomplishing that goal next season and beyond.

Connolly is an under-the-radar free agent that Ken Holland would be foolish to ignore when the tampering period opens.

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