Brett Connolly was selected 6th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he has only managed to crack the Lightning lineup for 84 games, putting up 6 goals and 17 points in his NHL career. It’s clear that he has struggled at the NHL level, and his struggles are made worse by the fact that he was drafted ahead of players who have already found success in the NHL. Some of the players drafted after Connolly include Jeff Skinner (Calder Trophy winner), Justin Faulk (U.S. Olympian), and Vladimir Tarasenko. Each of these players have played over 100 games in the NHL, and each of them has at least 60 career points. 4 years removed from being drafted, Connolly has yet to find his niche in the NHL, and it makes me wonder if he ever will.
Brett Connolly has found success playing in the minor and junior leagues, but so far he hasn’t been able to translate that success to the NHL. Connolly spent his entire junior career with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, where he put up 86 goals and 152 points in 144 games. Connolly has also found success in the AHL, playing with the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightnings AHL affiliate. In 137 career AHL games, Connolly has 52 goals and 120 points. Last year, Connolly spent 11 games with Tampa Bay, during which he scored only 1 goal. He was sent back down to the AHL, where he had a great season, putting up 21 goals and 57 points in 66 games, good for 15th in league scoring. So far in his career, Connolly reminds me of Chris Bourque, son of legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. Chris Bourque is one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the AHL, but he’s never been able to get it done in the NHL, and now he seems doomed to be a life-long AHLer. If Connolly keeps heading in the same direction, he will most likely end up just like Chris Bourque.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have always been good at drafting. Their obvious drafted gems are Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos, but they have also managed to pick up a lot of good players in the later rounds of the draft, such as Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat. Some players take longer to develop than others, and Connolly could just be a late bloomer. A player who’s had a similar career to Brett Connolly’s is Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter was taken 5th overall in 2010 by the New York Islanders, one pick before Connolly was drafted. Niederreiter struggled with the Islanders, but he was good in the AHL. Niederreiter was traded to the Minnesota Wild before the start of last season, and he finally had a breakout year. Before he found success in Minnesota, many people thought that Niederreiter was a bust, but he has since proven them wrong. Maybe the same thing will happen to Connolly. As I said, he might just be a late bloomer who will find success in Tampa in a few years, or maybe he needs a change of scenery to jump-start his career. Connolly is still young at only 22 years old, and he has plenty of time to turn it around. I don’t believe that Brett Connolly is a bust yet, but if he doesn’t manage to crack the lineup for more than 40 games this year, I fear that he might be headed the way of Alexandre Daigle.