Very early on Monday morning, the forward was traded from Tampa Bay to Boston. In the last 24 hours, he has conducted a conference call with the Boston media, packed up his things in Florida and caught a flight to Boston. He arrived just in time for Tuesday morning’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, donning a burgundy practice sweater.
“This is different, for sure — but it’s exciting, obviously,” the newest Bruin told reporters after practice. “You want to be in a position like this. Every player dreams of this, and I’m excited for it. Hopefully, I can embrace it. Obviously, for me, [I] enjoyed myself in Tampa, but it’s a new beginning, a fresh start, and I’m excited.”
Connolly, Tampa’s sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, comes to Boston as a player with a lethal shot who is just starting to settle into his game. He has been up and down between the big club and the AHL over the last four seasons, but in 2014-15, he seems to have found his stride.
Now, he just needs to learn Boston’s system, and once he does that, he looks forward to helping his new team push toward the playoffs.
“I think the system mostly will be the hardest part,” Connolly said. “The guys have been great, obviously — I got in, and right away, making me feel welcome, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously that helps, so for me, that makes you feel a little more comfortable out there. So I’m excited about that.
“Obviously for a couple of drills, you’re trying to feel the guys out, but it was good. The guys have been great, welcomed me right away. I just got in [Tuesday] morning, so it’s been a quick turnaround. I’m excited. Again, there’s a good winning tradition here, and I’m excited and hope to be a part of it.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien doesn’t yet know where Connolly will fit into his lineup — “It’s early,” he said — he is eager to find out.
“This is a guy that’s in his first full year — I think he’s got skill, I know he can shoot the puck, but we’ll see how he fits in with our hockey club, and where he fits in, with time,” Julien said.
“I think Connolly, once we see him, we might realize that he’s a pretty good player. I know he’s got a good shot, good size, and I know for a fact that in Tampa Bay, when you’re playing behind the Callahans that are righties, and the Stamkoses and stuff like that, it’s hard — but we certainly have a shortage of right-hand shots here, so I would expect him to help us immediately.”
Connolly knows his shot is perhaps his best asset. Particularly in the last several months in Tampa, he has been encouraged to use that shot, and he doesn’t expect that strategy to change now.
“Even when I was with Tampa, that was kind of the message with me: Don’t pass it, just shoot the puck,” he said. “That’s where I’ve had a little bit of success this year — shooting the puck and scoring goals this year. So again, nothing’s going to change.
“If I get the puck in a shooting area, I want to shoot it. So I’m looking to do that.”
Though Tuesday marked his first day in Boston, Connolly isn’t completely unfamiliar with his surroundings — or those who surround him. The native of Prince George, B.C., played on a World Junior team with defenseman Dougie Hamilton and has played in the past with forward Ryan Spooner.
“I’ll get to know the guys a little bit better, here, in the next few days,” he said, “and we’ll go from there.”
His new teammates, too, are excited to get to know him.
“He's a young guy, coming in with lots of skill, and he's a right-hand shot, which we definitely need,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “I think he's going to be a great fit for us. I think he's one of those guys that can bring a lot to our hockey club, if he gets his chance, and we're happy to have him with us.”
Talbot Set to Arrive on Tuesday Night
The Bruins made another move before Monday’s Trade Deadline had passed: They acquired veteran forward Max Talbot, who is set to arrive in Boston on Tuesday evening.
“He’s a great guy in the dressing room,” Julien said. “He does whatever he has to do to help teams out. He’s had a decent year, actually, with Colorado, and we’ve seen him before in Pittsburgh, where he did a great job with them, being kind of a leader, a glue guy, and a good penalty killer as well. So we could certainly use that type of a player right now.”
Bergeron has some familiarity with Talbot from their days in junior hockey.
“We had known each other back from junior days, playing against each other and making it to the NHL, and seeing each other in the summertime and whatnot,” Bergeron said. “Definitely a great addition for us. He’s got a lot of experience, and definitely one of those guys that competes all the time, every night, and wants to win. So it's great to have him with us.”
Just as Julien doesn’t know exactly where Connolly will fit into the lineup, he doesn’t know quite where Talbot will fit in, either. But he did indicate that Talbot reminds him of another current player on his roster.
“He’s a lot like the [Gregory] Campbells, in that he’ll do everything on the ice he has to to help a hockey club,” Julien said. “He’s very versatile. He is a good room guy, and he’s a former captain — in his junior days — and I know he’s been a real asset to every team he’s been on, as far as being a good team player. So there’s a lot he can bring to the table.”
Campbell, for one, would be thrilled to have Talbot join his line.
“I think if he ends up playing with us, that’s great,” Campbell said. “We’re similar players, and he’ll complement our line very well. I don’t know how it’s going to shake out; I don’t put the lines together. But it’s certainly a good thing to have another experienced guy in the room, another voice. I don’t know if he’s vocal or not, but I’m sure he leads by example. I respect the way he plays, and he’s won a Stanley Cup, and he knows what it takes to win.
“Right now, we’re in the playoffs in our minds, and every game is important. So down the stretch, I think we’re going to rely on a guy like that a lot.”
Trade Deadline Over
The 2015 Trade Deadline has passed, and the Bruins, for the most part, are still intact.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli did have to part ways with forwards Jordan Caron and Craig Cunningham, but the fact that he was able to keep the Bruins’ core together — and moreover, wanted to keep the core together — is a vote of confidence for the group, Julien said on Tuesday.
“I think that’s the thing that I think people have to notice, is that we felt, as an organization, pretty good about our core guys,” Julien said. “In order to make a big splash, you probably have to get rid of a core guy to make some room, right? Cap-wise, and everything else. So our core group has been a strong group for us, so we’re happy to still have them around.
“To be able to trade for those big names that we were talking about, we would have had to get rid of a big name here, and I think right now, our organization feels that the big names here are important parts of our hockey club.”
Now, in a sense, there is relief. There is some comfort in knowing that this is the Bruins’ group going forward. The uncertainty is over. Now, they can fully focus on the playoff push.
“It is a relief for all of the guys,” Bergeron said. “You are a professional; you don't want to think about [the trade deadline], but at the same time, it's in the back of your head, and I'm sure it was in some of the guys' heads the last few weeks. Now, it's nice that it's behind us and we can look forward.
“This is the team and the guys that we're going to have and we're going to have to go to war with for the rest of the year.”
The Bruins, at present, find themselves in a bit of an unfamiliar position. At this time last year, they were making a push for the Presidents’ Trophy, which they would eventually claim. Now, they’re clinging to the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
But as Campbell said, you can’t win the Presidents’ Trophy every year. You can, however, get into the playoffs, and that is where the team’s sole focus lies at the moment.
“I think Peter believes in the boys that we have, and I think the coaching staff believes, and I think we, as a team, believe in ourselves,” Campbell said. “Has it been a tough year? Absolutely. We have high expectations, but we’re still in the playoffs, and I like to think we’re going to make the playoffs.
“I think Peter’s a smart enough man and has had enough experience to know that not every year is perfect. There’s a lot that goes into putting a team together, and he’s done a good job so far, so we, as players, just have to compete hard and play.”
There have been struggles this year — no one in Boston’s room is denying that — but the team still believes in itself, and it believes that it didn’t need an overhaul in order to make one final push this season.
“I don't think we needed to add a ton, and we didn’t,” said forward Brad Marchand. “We’re very confident with the team that we have — we have been all year. There's been ups and downs, and we've taken a lot of heat because we were out of the playoffs for a bit, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what position you finish in, as long as you end up in a playoff spot.
“We don't need to run away with the Presidents' Trophy. We did that last year and it didn't work out for us, so the big thing is that we play really good hockey from here on out and we're confident with the group we have.”
Campbell on the Mend
On Feb. 23, Julien announced that Campbell was set to miss at least a week with an upper-body injury.
On Tuesday, he hit the ice with his teammates for the first time in over a week, and though he didn’t take contact, it was a sign of progress. Still, his status for Thursday’s game against Calgary remains unknown.
“I haven’t talked to the trainers, and [Tuesday] was a no-contact day,” Julien said. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings and take it from there.”
After the skate, Campbell reiterated that he felt good out on the ice but isn’t trying to rush back into action.
“I’m honestly taking it day by day,” He said. “I didn’t have any contact today, but it feels OK. These kind of injuries tend to stick around for a while, so similar pain threshold, but more as just making sure everything’s intact and safe to play and compete. But it was a positive day for me.”
McQuaid Misses Practice
Defenseman Adam McQuaid was the only unexpected absence from Tuesday’s practice, but after the session, Julien said that McQuaid was simply taking a maintenance day.
As expected, David Krejci (knee) and Kevan Miller (shoulder) were not on the ice.
Tuesday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Reilly Smith
Gray Jerseys: Daniel Paille, Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson
Burgundy Jerseys: Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Brian Ferlin, Brett Connolly
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg