Over the past couple of seasons, the Florida Panthers have consistently struggled to score at even strength, but a new face has started to solve this situation.
After coming off his best season in Washington, winger Brett Connolly has been a solid get for the Florida Panthers this off-season. Getting a four-year contract worth $3.5 million per year, Connolly was signed to fill a need for two needs.
Last season, the Florida Panthers were one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL. Through stars like Aleksander Barkov leading the way, with Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov also putting up over 25 goals, Florida was a force to be reckoned with.
Looking at it from that vantage point, it seemed like Florida didn’t need to go out and sign a forward. Why would Dale Tallon need to improve his biggest strength?
There were two clear issues with how the Panthers went along with scoring. One, their scoring depth was really subpar. Outside of Frank Vatrano, the Panthers’ bottom-six was really poor. Colton Sceviour and Dryden Hunt struggled to score, Jayce Hawryluk struggled to stay in the lineup, and Jared McCann‘s departure left a huge hole that Henrik Borgstrom failed to fill.
Connolly was coming off his best season in Washington when he signed, scoring 22 goals in 81 games, tapping 26 assists along with that. For someone who had really been more of a bottom-six guy, this was a great revelation for the Capitals. With the Caps struggling for cap, Florida snatched him up.
Another key part of his 22 goals is that all of them came at even strength. For Florida, this was the other problem they were facing was scoring at even strength. Florida’s second-ranked power play dominated the NHL but was also a problem for the team. Hoffman, for example, had 36 goals last season, with eight this season. 22 of those goals have come on the man advantage.
Connolly needed to come in and give the Panthers some consistent scoring at even strength, and that’s what he’s done.
So far, Connolly has a fair seven goals in 20 games, fourth on the team, trailing Mike Hoffman (8), Jonathan Huberdeau (9), and Evgenii Dadonov (10). Connolly has also tallied six assists while been mixed between the second and third line, showing his consistency between pairings.
What’s important is that Connolly’s even-strength scoring has continued to stay effective in Sunrise. All of Connolly’s goals have come at even strength, putting him at second on the team, only behind Huberdeau (who has also scored all of his goals at even-strength). He’s also been efficient with his opportunities, taking only 34 shots across the season.
Along with that, Connolly has stayed disciplined for a lot of other younger forwards around him. He remains at a +4 plus-minus and has taken just four penalties this season, keeping up the solid two-way play he was known for to start his career.
Connolly has also remained effective at finding space. From his slick shots from close in after creating space for himself or tapping in second-chance opportunities, Connolly is creating chances for himself in multiple different ways, which opens up opportunities for his teammates.
With Connolly’s play so far, the Panthers should have no reason to regret shelling out $14 million to him on July 1st. On pace for 29 goals this season with likely 25 assists to go along with it, Connolly is not only on pace to continue his play from last season but to improve on it.