Brett Connolly

In three successive seasons, future #1 NHL draft picks John Tavares, Patrick Kane and Taylor Hall were named CHL rookie of the year. The following season, the winner was Brett Connolly. So the Tampa Lightning product certainly has the pedigree to become a major stud in the NHL.


Selected sixth overall by Steve Yzerman and Co. in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, the six-foot-two right winger is dominating the WHL with the Prince George Cougars this season, scoring 40 goals in 56 games against 23 assists.


Playing for his hometown team, Connolly missed all but 16 games last season after suffering a hip injury at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.


Prince George Head Coach Dean Clark, who was drafted by Edmonton in the eighth round of the 1982 NHL Draft and played one game for the Oilers during their first Stanley Cup season in 1983-84, told PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION that Connolly’s injury is behind him and he’s back to playing the way he showed he could when he scored 30 goals as a 16-year old, the first WHL player to do so in 13 years.


“There has been no trouble at all this season with his hips,” says Clark. “After the season is done, Brett just needs to put in a good summer and get himself in better shape and stronger so that he compete at the next level. It’s a lot harder to compete at that level, playing against men, as compared to playing against kids here. So that’s the one way he’s really got to improve this summer.”


Clark doesn’t think Connolly will find a spot on Tampa Bay’s roster next season but is confident that he’ll be an impact player one day.


“I project him to be a top-six forward in the NHL,” says Clark. “But obviously, for these kids to get to that level there is still a lot of work to be done. And I don’t know if he’s a guy that can step in next season. Like I said, I just think there needs to be more work done physically so he is strong enough to play at that level for an extended period of time and play against men.”


Some seasoning in the AHL with Tampa Bay’s affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, may be in Connolly’s future, says Clark although he admits he’s not very well versed in the Lightning’s depth at each position.


“They’ve got a great lineup with Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis but they’ve got a lot of young, good kids too that are coming up and eventually there will be room for these kids on the roster.”


Clark says Connolly skates very well for a six-foot-two forward, not only straight ahead but laterally, as well.


“He’s a good skater. There is obviously things in his game that he’s got to get better at to compete on a regular basis at the NHL level but he certainly has some very good talent, some very good skill, possesses very good vision of the ice and he can make some great plays.”


With 40 goals already this season, Connolly has no problem putting the puck in the net but Clark says he’s a playmaker too. It’s just difficult to find players that can skate with him.


“One of the things that are hard when you have a player of his calibre is trying to find players that are going to complement that level of play,” explains Clark. “I think we’ve tried to get some people that will make our team successful but obviously he’s a guy that has a hunger around the net and he’s a natural goal scorer.”


Connolly also serves as captain of the Cougars, a leadership position that Clark says suits his star player well.


“Some of things that he’s learning right now aren’t necessarily about scoring goals. He’s our captain, so he’s learning some leadership skills and some other things that will round him out into being a better player.”


That includes Clark playing him at centre, although he says Connolly natural position of right wing is definitely his best.


“He’s played a little bit of centre for me but the majority of the time, he’s been on the right wing and that’s where I see him in the NHL. I think the games that he played at centre, he wasn’t bad and it allowed him to have the puck a little bit more than he does as a winger. And I also think he could play on his off-wing too. That wouldn’t be a problem either.”





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Jocular Hockey Manager said:

CHL Rookie of the Year Winners A very interesting list. However, if they faded prior to the NHL draft, they tend to become NHL commoners. (Pouliot, Upshall, O'Sullivan, Legwand, Yachmenev, Boucher, Perrault, Gelinas). It almost assures them of an NHL career though. Brendl & Ellison are the only two apparent full blown busts. If they win this award and then are top three in their NHL draft class, the Hall-of-Fame becomes a consideration. Pretty safe to keep it in the back of your mind, that when in doubt, you can always draft this kid if he's available towards the end of your keeper draft. Worst case scenario would then be the ability to get your draft pick back.

2009–10 Matt Puempel, Peterborough Petes
2008–09 Brett Connolly, Prince George Cougars
2007–08 Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires
2006–07 Patrick Kane, London Knights
2005–06 John Tavares, Oshawa Generals
2004–05 Benoit Pouliot, Sudbury Wolves
2003–04 Sidney Crosby, Rimouski Océanic
2002–03 Matt Ellison, Red Deer Rebels
2001–02 Patrick O'Sullivan, Mississauga IceDogs
2000–01 Scottie Upshall, Kamloops Blazers
1999–00 Dan Blackburn, Kootenay Ice
1998–99 Pavel Brendl, Calgary Hitmen
1997–98 David Legwand, Plymouth Whalers
1996–97 Vincent Lecavalier, Rimouski Océanic
1995–96 Joe Thornton, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
1994–95 Bryan Berard, Detroit Junior Red Wings
1993–94 Vitali Yachmenev, North Bay Centennials
1992–93 Jeff Friesen, Regina Pats
1991–92 Alexandre Daigle, Victoriaville Tigres
1990–91 Philippe Boucher, Granby Bisons
1989–90 Petr Nedved, Seattle Thunderbirds
1988–89 Yanic Perreault, Trois-Rivières Draveurs
1987–88 Martin Gelinas, Hull Olympiques
March 12, 2011
Votes: +0

DuklaNation said:

... These days, it seems like everyone says a player needs a yr in the AHL. So often now, I ignore it. Some guys are ready sooner than others it all depends on how they develop which can change in one off season.

Connolly operates at an NHL level offensively. TB was high on him from training camp but he needed a yr because of the injuries. Id expect this offseason to be very productive for him as he can focus on improving his overall game instead of the injuries. Dont be surprised if he makes it next season. You cant teach scoring touch. Just ask Kessel.
March 12, 2011
Votes: +0

Budde said:

cougars Watching Connolly here in Prince George I can attest that he has the skating skills and scoring touch. Very fluid and a good notch better than the other players around him. He is raw around the edges but what kid his age isn't. Think Kesler without the front-of-the-net presence.
March 12, 2011
Votes: +1

slufoot said:

WJC I thought Connolly was pretty underwhelming at the WJC this year - he wasn't really given a legitimate shot at a scoring role, but as the tournament wore on other players like Howden seemed to surpass him.
He'll have to have a dominant AHL rookie season or WJC next year before I buy-in on him.
40 goals is pretty amazing - but when the assists arent't there as well, it doesn't bode well for elite production at the NHL level.
March 12, 2011
Votes: -1
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