He wasn’t too worried about his own future in Black and Gold. Boston had acquired him at the trade deadline in March from Tampa Bay. The Bruins had seen potential in the 6th overall pick from 2010. He was a right-shot right winger with a shoot-first mentality, and a 6’2” 181-pound frame that he didn’t mind taking into the corners and going to battle. He knew his abilities, and they did too.
Still, it was reassuring for Connolly to know that he still fit into the team’s plans.
Sweeney announced on Monday that the team signed the restricted free agent to a one-year contract that will keep him a Bruin for the 2015-16 season. The deal is worth a cap hit of $1,025,000.
“You know, you don’t really know what the plan is, but I felt that I had always been in the plans this summer, and that I’m going to get a good opportunity,” Connolly said via phone from Toronto, where he trains in the offseason.
“They believe in me and what I can do, and it’s just exciting to get reassurance and sign the deal and hopefully have a good start to the season and get back in the playoffs. It’s exciting for everybody.”
After the initial shock of being traded at the deadline from Tampa Bay to Boston wore off for Connolly, he was excited for the fresh start.
The Lightning was overflowing with offensive talent. Connolly played in a bottom six role and focused on developing his all-around game.
Coming to Boston provided him with an opportunity to establish himself as a top-six forward.
But his beginning in Boston didn’t go as planned. He was injured during his second practice with the team after a puck broke his right index finger. He missed a month of action before suiting up in the Bruins’ final five games of the season and notching two assists.
September will finally provide Connolly with his fresh start. He has a new deal, and a chance to prove that he should be in the Bruins’ fold beyond 2015-16.
“It’s exciting. It’s good to get it out of the way,” Connolly said of finalizing the contract. “I’m very, very excited for this season. Obviously, kind of a fresh start for the organization, moving a few guys, so it’s a good opportunity for me and I’m very excited to be a part of the Bruins - such a historic franchise - and it will be a good, fresh start for me."
“Obviously last year was a little weird [with the injury], but it will be good to get there and get going.”
When Connolly’s finger healed and he rejoined the team's practices, he bounced around on different lines. In his Bruins’ debut on April 2 and thereafter, he slotted in on the third and fourth lines. With the team trying to push into the postseason, line combinations were switched up further with Head Coach Claude Julien trying to find a spark.
Come training camp, Connolly will be given an opportunity to find chemistry with consistent linemates. He will likely wind up on the wing of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron or Spooner.
“When teams do kind of re-tool, it gives opportunities for guys like myself to step up and contribute and that’s what every guy wants - he wants an opportunity to play and to be a contributor,” said Connolly. “Obviously, it’s a fresh start, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
“I should be in a pretty good situation here this year so I’m excited to get going, I can’t wait to get down there.”
Connolly, who turned 23 in May, will be entering his fifth pro season. It has been an up-and-down journey thus far for him. He put up 12 goals and five assists through 55 games in 2014-15. He spent his previous two seasons mostly in the AHL after his first NHL season in Tampa in 2011-12 saw him play 68 games with 15 points.
The winger's primed for a breakout year.
“There’s a lot of good players, and up top, that’s obviously where you want to be and I know that’s where my game can be, so I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Connolly. “You know, I’ve been working very hard this summer to be in the best shape possible to have a good start and come into training camp, be in good shape and be ready to play more minutes.”
“Be a contributor and help the team win,” he continued. “I’m excited to get down there and help them do that.”