Brett Connolly took a long time to justify his status as the 2010 draft’s No. 6 overall pick. But if he was ever going to break out, doing so right before becoming a UFA was excellent timing.
Connolly 27, spent the past three seasons with the Washington Capitals, winning a Stanley Cup in 2018 and peaking this past season. His 22 goals beat his previous career high by seven, and his 46 points eclipsed his previous personal best by 19. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, capable of playing the right wing or center in a pinch in a middle-six role, his set of tools could appeal to almost any team. The winning bid came from the Florida Panthers, who have signed Connolly to a four-year, $13-million deal carrying a $3.25-million AAV.
Players in Connolly’s tier always carry a certain degree of risk. Before scoring their big open-market deals, they’re relative bargains producing ahead of expectations. A 22-goal year from Connolly was great for Washington when he was a $1.5-million player. At $3.25 million, however, he’s now being paid with the expectation of producing at that rate going forward. Big difference.
So can we expect Connolly to deliver? He scored on 15.8 percent of his shots this past season, which is a high success rate, but he’s actually always been an accurate shooter with a career mark of 13.6.percent. Analytically, he delivered great bang for the buck on a per-minute basis this past season. Among 365 forwards who played 500 or more minutes at 5-on-5, he ranked 17th in individual points per 60 minutes. His most common linemates were Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. The Panthers should deploy Connolly on the second or third line, meaning his most likely centers are Vincent Trocheck and Henrik Borgstrom. Depending on how Borgstrom progresses as a sophomore, Connolly should have similar linemate quality to what he had in Washington.
Connolly is thus set up for success, joining a Panthers team that has added Joel Quenneville as coach, (unofficially) Sergei Bobrovsky as a starting goalie and expects to make the playoffs next year. The underlying numbers suggest Connolly has been productive enough to justify his AAV. But make no mistake: there’s pressure on him to deliver now. If he’s not a 20-goal player every year as a Panther, it’s a bad signing.
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