Hockey is easy again

Con­nolly re­dis­cov­ers game, re­vi­tal­izes ca­reer with Cap­i­tals

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

Hockey is easy again for Brett Con­nolly.

Once a blue chip prospect, it looked aw­fully dif­fi­cult for Con­nolly dur­ing his first four NHL sea­sons. He couldn’t pro­duce like he did in ju­nior ranks or the mi­nors, was traded and hit bot­tom when the Bos­ton Bru­ins de­cided not to ex­tend a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer last sum­mer. That move al­lowed him to be­come a free agent.

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals ex­pressed in­ter­est in Con­nolly right away and signed him to a bar­gain-base­ment $850,000, one-year deal on the first day of free agency. That looks like a steal now with Con­nolly on the verge of ty­ing his ca­reer high in goals and on pace to shat­ter his ca­reer high in points.

“This game is all about con­fi­dence,” Con­nolly said Wed­nes­day. “When you’re con­fi­dent, you’re a com­pletely dif­fer­ent player and when you don’t you’re not a good player. It’s just a mat­ter of find­ing that.”

It’s safe to say Con­nolly found it. Line­mates Lars Eller, another new­comer, and An­dre Bu­rakovsky have been Con­nolly’s com­pass on his jour­ney to be­ing a pro­duc­tive NHL player this sea­son. Af­ter be­ing healthy-scratched 14 times in the first half of the sea­son, the 24-yearold has be­come a main­stay in Wash­ing­ton’s lineup and has six points in his past four games.

Shak­ing off the frus­tra­tion that mounted dur­ing un­suc­cess­ful stints with the Tampa Bay Light­ning and Bru­ins, along with the signer’s re­morse that came with sit­ting so much early this sea­son, Con­nolly finally looks like the player who was the sixth over­all pick in 2010 and con­sid­ered a fu­ture star. “There’s a lot of pres­sure on guys when they go top five, six over­all,” said team­mate and friend Tom Wil­son, who works out with Con­nolly dur­ing the sum­mer in Toronto and was also a first-round pick. “They come into the NHL, they’re ex­pected to pro­duce. He had some tough times early on in his ca­reer, a lit­tle ad­ver­sity, moved a cou­ple times and it’s awe­some to see him kind of come in here and find his stride.”

Con­nolly has 11 goals and five as­sists in 40 games, so he’s not over­shad­ow­ing Alex Ovechkin or Nick­las Back­strom, but the Camp­bell River, Bri­tish Columbia, na­tive is part of the league­lead­ing Cap­i­tals’ elite scor­ing depth. He fit into an es­tab­lished core right away, didn’t com­plain about not play­ing and is be­ing re­warded for the pa­tience that was lack­ing ear­lier in his ca­reer.

Scor­ing too much in his first NHL camp for the Light­ning to send him back to the Western Hockey League, Con­nolly con­cedes now he might not have been ready for that pres­sure at age 19. He did fine in the Amer­i­can Hockey League but never found his scor­ing touch in Tampa, and Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz be­lieves Con­nolly was given “too much too early” and was un­fairly la­beled a bust be­fore he was given a chance.

AP PHOTO

In this Oc­to­ber 2016 file photo, Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ Brett Con­nolly shoots dur­ing a pre­sea­son NHL game against the New York Is­lan­ders in Bridge­port, Conn.

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