Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly can (and can't) relate to Jonathan Drouin situation

DJ Bean
January 04, 2016 - 2:05 pm

The story sounds familiar enough -- a top pick of the Lightning has not become a star and figures to eventually be traded -- but Brett Connolly can't put himself in Jonathan Drouin's shoes completely. On Sunday, the Lightning sent Drouin, whom they drafted third overall in the 2013 draft, to Syracuse of the AHL. That led to agent Allan Walsh revealing that his client had requested a trade from Tampa in November, news that was still somewhat shocking despite ongoing murmurs that the 20-year-old left wing was not happy with how the team and coach Jon Cooper were using him. Based on his own experience, Connolly -- the Lightning's first pick (sixth overall) in 2010 -- hopes that Drouin doesn't expect anything in the league to just come to him. He calls Drouin a "good kid" whom he feels can be a star wherever he ends up. "He's a good player. He's got a lot of talent," Connolly said of his former teammate. "Young guys come in the league and you realize really fast that it's a tough league. You've got to find your game and you've got to work at it. It's not going to be given to you no matter how high a draft pick you are." Connolly knows what it's like to be drafted early by the Lightning and not ascend to stardom as quickly as planned. Like Drouin, Connolly returned to his junior team for another season after being drafted and then turned pro a season later. Both players spent their first pro season playing for Tampa given that the CHL/NHL transfer agreement required players under 20 to either stay with their junior teams or play for their NHL club. Most notably, neither one put up mesmerizing numbers in the NHL in the early going; Connolly had four goals in 68 games in his first NHL season, while Drouin had four goals in 70 games as a rookie. Yet Connolly's situation is different from Drouin's in that he wouldn't have had a problem staying in Tampa. The team traded him last season because they had a crowded forward group and couldn't send him down without waivers. At least from the outside, a lack of patience from a still-developing player appears to be a big factor in Drouin's case. Drouin has two goals in 19 games this season, giving him a total of six goals in 89 career NHL games. Connolly spent the lockout-shortened season in the AHL, where Cooper was his head coach. The right wing -- who has often sung Cooper's praises -- says that he was receptive to Cooper's style, but that some players might respond to it differently. "I think that he's one of those coaches that it just depends on how you react to the criticism," Connolly said. "I think some guys have a little bit thicker skin than others. He was hard on his players, he was demanding, he was fair -- a lot of similarities to Claude [Julien]. "It's just a matter of sticking with it. Sometimes he's not going to be happy with you. He's not going to be happy with you all year. You've just got to take the most out of it and take it with a grain of salt." Said Connolly of Cooper and Drouin: "Their relationship, when I was there, it didn't seem like an issue, but we'll see what happens. It's an interesting move on their part." As for the trade request, Connolly seemed surprised that it came as early in Drouin's career as it did, but he doesn't besmirch the player for being proactive. "You can look at it both ways. I think that sometimes in this business, you've got to be bold sometimes," Connolly said. "If you don't feel like it's going to work out somewhere, you might as well get out of there, or you can look at it as he's a young kid, a high pick, maybe people are thinking he's a little entitled, but at the same time, it's his career. If he feels that he's going to have a better chance somewhere else, then maybe that's the way he's going."