Florida Panthers: Expect Big Things From Brett Connolly

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06: Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly (10) stickhandles the puck during the New York Islanders vs. the Washington Capitals NHL game April 6, 2019 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06: Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly (10) stickhandles the puck during the New York Islanders vs. the Washington Capitals NHL game April 6, 2019 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Brett Connolly is an NHL veteran with a ton of valuable experience. After a career year this past season, the Florida Panthers should expect some solid production from the 27-year-old winger.

Florida Panthers supporters entered free agency with some high hopes, with the prospect of signing both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin leading to fans licking their chops.

Unfortunately, those fans were left somewhat disappointed when “The Bread Man” chose to take his talents to New York signing a massive seven-year deal with the Rangers worth over $11.5M annually.

Let me make this clear to those who are still bummed out about the whole ordeal, missing out on Panarin may end up being a blessing in disguise for the Panthers.

With the money that would have been spent on the Russian star, Florida managed to sign a top-four defenseman in Anton Stralman, a gritty bottom-six forward in Noel Acciari, and, Stanley Cup Champion Brett Connolly.

Connolly may end up being the biggest bargain of this year’s free agency crop, here’s why.

The former Washington Capitals forward is coming off a career-high in both goals and points. He posted 22 goals and 46 points last year, and he still has room for improvement.

After being drafted sixth overall in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly struggled to find his game. He was slated by most as a bottom-six winger at best, and he seemed as though he would never live up to his potential.

Since then, expectations for the Campbell River native have shifted. Again, he’s still just 27-years-old, which means he should be in the prime of his career and if the 2018-19 campaign was any indication, the man can perform.

It’s no secret that the Panthers failed to produce at even strength last year. The team scored 189 goals 5-on-5 while allowing 217 goals against. Sure, their powerplay percentage of 26.77% was good enough for second-best in the league, but they still, once again, missed the playoffs. This is exactly where Connolly fits in.

He scored 21 of his 22 goals even strength which had him ranked 48th in the entire league. To give that stat some perspective, Aleksander Barkov scored 22.

44 of his 46 points also came at even strength which put him above the likes of Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and, Anze Kopitar. He brings an element to the bottom six that the Panthers that they have been lacking.

No organization can expect to play a sub-par 5-on-5 game and have a deep playoff run. A top-notch powerplay is a crucial component for success, but it’s simply not enough.

If Connolly can up his game on the man advantage while continuing to produce as he did last season, Florida’s offensive depth will be a force to be reckoned with.

Hopefully, Joel Quenneville, being the elite coach that he is, can show Connolly a few pointers on powerplay production. Florida’s powerplay was also one of the best in the NHL last season, ranking second, which could also give Connolly some much-needed support.

Given the talented teammates he will have the luxury of playing with, I don’t anticipate Connolly’s even-strength production to drop off either.

I would expect him to record around 45-55 points next year and when you take into account his contract,  that will make him quite a valuable player.

I love the deal that Dale Tallon was able to pull off. Connolly carries a cap hit of $3.5 million per year for the next four seasons which looks unreal as of right now. This means signing a bonafide top-nine forward who could easily slide into the Panthers top-six at the cheapest price of all the rest by a difference of $2.4 million.

DailyFaceoff.com has him slated to start the season on the Cats’ third line alongside Henrik Borgstrom and Frank Vatrano, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Owen Tippett starts on that line instead of Vatrano. If that does end up being Florida’s third unit, they would be chock full of potential and could be a handful for opposing teams to defend.

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One of the most exciting things that Connolly brings to the table is his versatility. He’s responsible in his own end and has the experience to move up and down the lineup.

Let’s face it; injuries happen. When they do, it’s reassuring to know that you have someone who can absorb some serious minutes and compete hard every night.

Last but certainly not least is his valuable playoff experience. He won the Stanley Cup in 2018 as a member of the Capitals, and I’m sure he’s itching to get back on top of the hockey world.

Having a voice in the locker room from a guy who knows what it takes to win is one of the most precious assets any team can possess. Next year had better be the year playoff hockey returns to South Florida, and Connolly will be relied on if, and when, that time comes.

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Expect Connolly to play various roles this year bouncing around Florida’s top-nine. Wherever he plays, his experience and cool-headed approach to the game will surely be a welcome addition to the Panthers roster.