“It starts already, eh?” he joked as the media settled in with recorders and microphones.
There is a greater spotlight on Connolly now than there was on March 1, when Boston acquired the forward from Tampa Bay before the trade deadline.
“You know what, I think we’ll see kind of where I fit,” the right winger answered to the group of reporters gathered around him in the locker room.
“They will trying a bunch of different things at training camp and trying to find guys that work together well and there’s a lot of spots and a lot of places where I could slot in,” said Connolly. “So I’ve got to have a good training camp, have a good start and get the ball rolling.”
“Obviously it started here this week and [I’m] hoping to have a good start and have a positive impact on the team this year.”
When Connolly was acquired by the Bruins, there were questions about where he might fit into the lineup.
As a coveted right-shot, right winger with a shoot-first mentality, the sixth overall pick in 2010 was seen as having high potential. Maybe he could slide in and provide a spark to David Krejci’s line, or bring two-way reliable play to the tandem of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
But joining a team in March, about a month before the end of the season, doesn’t allow for much opportunity. The fact that the Bruins were in the heat of a playoff race, and not getting the desired results, didn’t help either. Add to that a broken finger, suffered during Connolly’s second practice with the team, and the circumstances didn’t align for him to make an immediate impact.
Now the questions have resurfaced, with training camp opening in about a week on Sept. 17, and no lines set in stone.
“There’s some good centermen on this team, so an opportunity like this doesn’t come around a lot and you want to take advantage of it when it’s given to you,” Connolly said. “And in the end, just wherever I slot in, I’ll be happy to play.”
“It starts in training camp and hopefully I get off to a good start and find chemistry with one of those guys.”
This camp will serve as one of the most intriguing in recent years, following the Bruins’ offseason. As a first-time general manager, Don Sweeney and his staff will be watching closely as the team they crafted begins to find chemistry.
There will also be plenty of experimenting with lines. The departures of Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille have left openings. New faces Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and Zac Rinaldo will try to find their places in the lineup, just as young players Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak will push to prove themselves.
The 23-year-old Connolly will be a part of that group.
“It’s wide open, and it’s going to make for a pretty excited training camp, very intense,” he said. “You know, nobody’s happy with the way it ended last year and guys are going to come in here and be energized and be ready to make a difference. So it’s an exciting time of the year.”
Though Connolly played just five games as a Bruin to end the 2014-15 season, after missing 15 games with his finger injury, that hasn’t prevented him from fully understanding the expectations of playing in the Spoked-B.
“For sure. There’s pressure everywhere,” he said. “You can’t really escape it, but it’s something that you’ve got to deal with and I know that nobody was happy with the way the year finished last year and we’re looking to change that this year.”
“There’s a lot of changes and new people are going to have to step up and fill the void for the some of the guys that we lost, but again, every year’s different and we have to come together as a team and play for one another and we’ll be fine.”
For players like Connolly, Beleskey and Hayes, who are just beginning their time in Black and Gold, the pressure of playing in Boston remains the same as it does for a Bruin like Bergeron, who has called the city home for more than a decade.
“That’s kind of what every kid dreams of, playing in a big market,” said Connolly. “Great city, great, passionate fans and, you know, with the guys that have won here in the past, it’s a great place to win and that’s everybody’s dream, to win in a big market like this.”
“Obviously there’s some changes this year, but everybody’s going in with an open mind and looking to make an impact. I know there’s a lot of young guys who are looking to make their mark on this team and hopefully the young guys will push the older guys and we’ll have a good balance this year.”
Connolly understands the outside pressures, while also placing plenty of pressure on himself.
After signing a one-year extension as a restricted free agent in the offseason, he’s excited to prove himself.
“Obviously any time you’re on a one-year deal and with the situation that I was in last year, getting traded here and then getting hurt right away, it was a weird year last year,” said Connolly, who was limited to 55 games in 2015-16.
“But, you know, there’s always pressure and obviously playing here in Boston, there’s that added pressure of playing in a big market, but something that I’m excited for and I think for myself, it’s a very good opportunity and something I’m hoping to grasp here.”
With his finger healed and hope for a healthy season ahead, Connolly is ready for any questions to be answered — on the ice.
“I’m familiar with the city and with everything that’s going on and what they expect, and it’s time to go now,” he said. “It’s been a long summer and I think everybody’s chomping at the bit to get going.”