Friday afternoon, forward Brett Connolly was voted to be the Capitals nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association announced the news after practice. Dmitry Orlov was the team’s honoree last season.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. The award was named after Bill Masterton, who is the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of injuries suffered during a game.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 24, 2017
The sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Connolly had a background that made him seem destined for superstardom. At age 16, Connolly scored 30 goals and 60 points in his first full season in juniors, becoming the first WHL player since Patrick Marleau (1995-96) to reach 30 goals at that age. Connolly was named the rookie of the year in the WHL and Canadian Hockey League (which comprises the three major junior leagues in Canada). Connolly also represented Canada internationally three times: once in the U18 World Junior Championship (2009) and twice in the U20 WJC (2011, 2012).
But in the National Hockey League something did not click. In Connolly’s first five seasons in the NHL, the winger scored only 27 goals. After setting career highs and promising possession numbers during the 2015-16 season, Connolly was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Boston Bruins, making him an unrestricted free agent. On the first day of free agency, the Capitals swooped in and signed the forward to a one-year, $850,000 contract. Midway through the season, Connolly landed on the Caps’ third line and has become one of the team’s best finishers.
“It’s been good,” Connolly said. “It was a little bit of a rough start. But I think after Christmas, when me Lars and Burky were put together, we kinda went on a little run, the team was playing well and it kind of just bled on for the rest of the year – the last 50 or so games.”
“I’m obviously very happy with the way the year has gone,” Connolly continued. “Such a great group of guys that made me feel comfortable as soon as I got here. It’s been a good year obviously to find that consistency again with myself, my game, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
With a career-high 15 goals on the year, Connolly is one of ten Capitals players to have scored 10 goals or more this season. He ranks seventh on the team in tallies.
Skating 10:49 per game, Connolly has seemingly found a knack for being at the right place at the right time, posting a 20% shooting percentage through 59 games this season.
“He’s given us quality minutes,” Trotz said. “Our scouts identified him as a guy who could contribute offensively. How much, I didn’t know. If you had said Brett Connolly is going to give you 15 goals coming into the season, I’d say, ‘We’ll take it, sure.’”
At the end of this season, Connolly will be a restricted free agent, but “would love to return.” The Capitals could see several talented players leave over the summer.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen from now until the end of the playoffs,” Connolly said. “A lot of guys are up on their contracts [and] we all have one goal and that’s to ultimately win at the end of the year. We’ll worry about where we’re going to be next year when we’re all done.”
“Hopefully with the Cup,” Connolly concluded.
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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