But he didn’t expect to receive the news, shortly after midnight on March 2, that he had been traded from Tampa Bay to Boston in exchange for draft picks.
“It kind of hit me out of left field — I didn’t really expect to get traded,” Connolly said on Monday evening during a conference call with reporters. “Obviously, nobody really does, but again, I enjoyed my time in Tampa and owe a lot to the organization. They did a lot for me to turn me into the player that I am.
“But I’m excited for a fresh start in Boston — that’s a very rich franchise, so I’m excited.”
Connolly admitted that he is hoping this opportunity will offer him a fresh start of sorts. The native of Prince George, B.C., was selected by the Lightning with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Lightning were quick to promote him to the NHL: He played in 68 games during the 2011-12 season. But the production came along slowly, and as a result of that — along with the fact that Tampa Bay has a plethora of talented wingers — he spent the bulk of the next two seasons in the AHL.
After spending 50 games with the big club this year and seeing his game begin to pick up, Connolly is excited to continue his progression in Black & Gold.
“It’s been an up-and-down first four years since I've been drafted,” Connolly said. “I played a little bit my first year, and then went to the Calder Cup Finals the lockout year, and then was up and down the next year and again. [I] got an opportunity this year to play, and obviously a very, very talented team in Tampa. I feel that for me, I owe Tampa a lot for my progression in the last four years, and I feel that I'm a much better player now than I was coming in.
“So again, I'm excited to build on that coming into to Boston.”
Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli described Connolly as a player the Bruins have had their eyes on for a few years, and a player they were very excited to bring to Boston.
“[Connolly] has been a former high draft pick and still is quite a young player,” Chiarelli said during a news conference on Monday. “For a number of reasons, he was available — mainly, the excess supply of right-wingers in Tampa.
“I had been talking to Steve Yzerman for the summer and most of the year on him, and his play is really starting to pick up. He was a slow starter since his draft, but his play is starting to pick up. He’s a big kid — he’s about 195, 6’2” — has a very good wrist shot, very good release, good hockey mind, starting to learn the nuances of the game, and we believe that there’s a very good upside with this player.”
Given that he was a first-round draft selection, there has understandably been pressure on Connolly to develop — and to produce — over the last four years. Lately, he has done that. His draft status also means that there is plenty of upside to his game, and the fact that Connolly will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season made him an even more appealing asset in Chiarelli’s eyes. He is a player the Bruins can continue to grow and develop over the next few years.
“I see a top six forward [in Connolly],” Chiarelli said. “Then, if you look at all his goals, he’s a shooter — I think he’s a shooter first. He’s a net-front guy. He’ll go and get goals at the top of the blue. He’s a rangy guy. He makes plays, but he’s a shoot first guy. I really like his release, and he’s young, and he’s growing. He’s going to be a top-six player.
“This is a high-pedigree player. They have a lot of offensive players in Tampa, and they have a lot of right-wingers, and that’s why he was available. As I said, we felt it would be a good add. There’s a future for him here. We’ve done rental players, and [some] worked, and some haven’t. The fact that you’re adding to bolster your group is a positive thing, and we felt this is the right way.”
Before the 3 p.m. deadline had passed on Monday to denote the NHL’s trade deadline, the Bruins made another substantial acquisition — one who will join Connolly in Boston this week: Chiarelli brought in veteran forward Max Talbot, a versatile winger who will bring 10 years of NHL experience to the table.
Prospect Paul Carey — a former Boston College Eagle — will also join the Bruins organization as part of the deal, which sent Jordan Caron to Colorado.
“We gave a sixth-round pick in 2016 as part of this deal, and [the Avalanche] retained half the salary as a part of this deal,” Chiarelli said. “[Talbot] is a, I think, a $1.8 [million] cap hit, and he’s got another year next year.
“I talked to Max earlier [Monday], and he’s excited to come here. I would characterize him as a glue guy who has played in a lot of playoffs, plays all three positions, is a gritty guy, plays all-out, and we believe he’s a good add to our forward group.”
It has yet to be determined where Talbot will fit into Boston’s lineup, but during Monday’s conference call, he reiterated his eagerness to help in any way he can.
“I’ll play anywhere they want me,” Talbot said. “I can play three positions, and I think [on] any line as well, so I’m excited to know what my role will be with this team and where they’re going to want to use me.”
Talbot obviously brings plenty of experience to the table, but he brings intangibles, too.
“I've played six years in [Pittsburgh] and had to be a part of two Stanley Cup Finals, which we won,” he said. “After that, I moved to Philly for 2 1/2 years, and I've been in Colorado for one year and a bit. I think if you look at these three teams, they're three very good organizations, and the experience I gained from those different teams and playing with different players, and different coaches — who coach differently and stuff — and playoffs, I think it's one of the reasons why the Bruins got me here today, is for the playoff experience.
“I've had different experiences throughout my career, and for me, it's a compliment and it's very exciting to be part of this great team.”