Saturday’s game against the Sabres will be Brett Connolly’s eighth in the NHL. Thus far he’s logged one assist, eight PIMs and is a respectable +3. He’s played on lines with Vinny, Marty, Stamkos, Malone, Moore…pretty much everywhere. But will he stay beyond the nine game audition window?
At the beginning of the season I would have said no. It’s just not the Yzerman (re: Red Wing) way and Brett would have to blow the doors off to stay. My opinion has changed for the following reasons:
1) Kid’s got skills! Despite the lack of big production, Connolly has NHL-caliber handles when he’s carrying the puck. He’s also shown a bit of tenacity diving for pucks and working along the boards. This combination of skills has allowed Guy Boucher to move him around in the lineup, which leads to my next point…
2) Versatility. As I touched upon, Connolly has the puck skills to be in the top six and the work ethic to be in the bottom six. The lineup flexibilty he provides is golden for a tactician like Boucher. If you consider Vinny, Stamkos, and Marty as top six locks, I like a healthy rotation of Malone/Downie/Connolly/Purcell to fill in the other three spots.
3) Ryan Shannon. Pegged as this year’s Sean Bergenheim, Shannon has struggled to pick up the system and has been a healthy scratch more than once in the early going. Many people thought he would see top six time and have a breakout year offensively, and that could still happen, but right now it’s not looking good.
In all honesty, I won’t be totally shocked no matter the outcome. Connolly is 19 and it still shows at times. He has a tendency to get caught out of position and has taken some very unnecessary penalties. However, he’s only taken one minor in the last five games and it was a very questionable call. For the reasons outlined above, Brett Connolly has me convinced that he just might stick.