Friday, September 29 2023

Brett Connolly’s advice to Caps’ draft picks: ‘Work is just beginning’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Enjoy the moment with your friends and family, then get ready for the real challenge to begin.

Former 11-year NHL veteran and Stanley Cup Champion Brett Connolly lived by that mantra as he was on the precipice of joining the professional ranks back in 2010. He didn’t know when he’d get drafted, which city he’d move to, or just how hard his world was going to “get turned upside down.”

Now, as the Washington Capitals prepare to bring aboard Ryan Leonard into the organizational ranks after drafting him 8th overall, the 31-year-old seasoned veteran Connolly has some words of advice for the young gun, sprouting from his own personal experience. Though Leonard will fulfill his collegiate obligation at Boston College for one year before entering the Caps’ organization, Connolly’s words could serve as a guiding light for the 18-year-old.

“The work is actually just beginning,” Connolly told NBC Sports Washington last week. “There’s gonna be lots of ups and downs, and I think it’s just a matter of how you handle those. I think you just gotta prepare in the offseason, during the season as best you can and just believe in your abilities at all times. Just do your best every day and let everything else kind of take care of itself.”

Connolly didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name was called on draft night, as he was selected sixth overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canadian winger was described by hockey scouts as someone who has “Got it all. He can make things happen all by himself. … He looks like he’s going to be a natural leader.”


For all the pre-draft hype he got as a teenager, Connolly would take a little while to get his legs under him in the NHL, as most draft picks do. He would return to the Prince Georges Cougars of the Western Hockey League for another year after hearing his name on draft night, then appear in 68 games for Tampa Bay the following year, where he’d amass 15 points.

Connolly would play just 16 games over the next two years in the NHL, spending most of his time at AHL Syracuse. In 2014-15, he established himself in an NHL lineup. Five years after being drafted by Tampa Bay, Connolly was traded to Boston where he would spend just over a season. Then, his career took off when he got the call from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan to join the Capitals in 2016.

Connolly spent three years in Washington where he would put up career-bests in games played (217), goals (52), and assists (44). He kept his own advice close to heart while progressing through the pros, which he now imparts onto Ryan Leonard, in addition to the five other young guns Washington drafted this year.

“There’s gonna be challenges throughout your career, but I think if you do the right things and you give it everything you have in the offseason, during the season, play for your teammates, and be a good teammate, your career will go what it was meant to go I think,” Connolly said.


In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened for Connolly. Just shy of the two-year anniversary of his joining the Capitals, the No. 10 winger supplied the primary assist on the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 5 vs. the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018. He appeared in every playoff game for Washington during that memorable run.

Connolly enjoyed productive seasons in Florida and Chicago after departing Washington one year after hoisting the Cup. He played in Switzerland this past season for HC Lugano in his first taste of European hockey, something he calls a “completely different game” from that in the NHL thanks to the bigger ice sheet.

His hockey career still going strong, Connolly continues to take the lessons learned on and since draft night to keep his game tight. For the six Capitals’ draftees this summer, that journey is just now beginning. Connolly can serve as an example of how he can put himself in the best possible position going forward.

“Just a long road ahead of them, a great road, but I think there’s gonna be more positives than negatives hopefully for the majority of [this year’s draft picks] as they navigate through their career,” Connolly said. “Where you’re picked, it doesn’t really matter. You gotta kinda carve your own path and do your own right things. It’s a long, fun road and it goes fast…it’s a fun ride, for sure.”

Source: Yahoo Sports


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