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In a young season that has been dominated by a suspension, injuries to key players, and a slow start to their season as defending Stanley Cup champions, there have been a few bright spots for the Capitals, including another historic milestone for Nicklas Backstrom, more record book climbing by Alex Ovechkin, and a strong start by Jakub Vrana. However, lost in the all the headlines is the strong start by right wing Brett Connolly, whose play has gone under the radar.
Through 18 games played this season, Connolly has two goals and eight assists for 10 points, with a plus-5 rating, all coming while the 26-year old former first-round pick (sixth overall in 2010 by Tampa Bay) is averaging a career-high 13:53 minutes of ice time for Head Coach Todd Reirden, playing primarily on a third-line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. After recording a career-high 15 goals in his first season with the Caps in 2016-17, Connolly followed that up with a 15-goal, 12-assist season last year en route to a Stanley Cup championship with the Capitals; in 24 playoff games played this past spring, Connolly recorded nine points.
His eight assists and 10 points are the most he’s recorded in the first 18 games of his three seasons with the Caps, having recorded one assist and four points in 2016-17, and two assists and five points last season, respectively, and he is currently on pace for nine goals, and a career-high 36 assists and 45 points this season. In addition, he is TIED in 5-on-5 points (9) with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsiv, despite seeing substantially less ice time. He is averaging 1.83 shots per game this season (the highest in his three seasons in D.C., albeit early in 2018-19) and is seeing an average of 1:31 of power play time this season (sixth-most on the Capitals this season, behind only Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie), compared to 1:26 and 0:26 the last two seasons, respectively. While he has yet to record a power play goal, Connolly has averaged 15.3 shots per 60 minutes of power play time
While he may not be a flashy or star player, Connolly has proven to be a steady contributor to the Caps through his first two full seasons in the DMV. With his contract set to expire after this season, another productive (but even more so) season could earn Connolly a nice pay raise. Once considered to be a prospect with the potential to make a splash offensively, Connolly seems to be capitalizing on his offensive chances to start this season, and should he continue to produce at his current rate, he will be one step closer to meeting those expectations.
By Michael Fleetwood