Scouting The Enemy: Mike Connolly, Lake Erie Monsters

When David Quinn was promoted from the Lake Erie Monsters head coaching job to assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, it was just a matter of time before the organization selected a young up and comer to toil away in Cleveland. Thus comes Dean Chynoweth, a former player and most recently an Islanders assistant, to help guide the team in what will be their sixth season of AHL play. With the addition of Chynoweth the team will likely continue their moniker of being defensively sharp, but with the desire to play a much speedier offensive game. But with four youthful goaltenders battling for AHL spots (Sami Aittokallio, Kieran Millan, Kent Patterson, Calvin Pickard), the shedding of goal scorers (Greg Mauldin, Evan Brophey, Patrick Rissmiller, Ryan Stoa), and the unknown impact of an NHL lockout – it’s hard to get a handle on how the lineup fuses together, at least in mid to late August.

It was inevitable that the Monsters rid themselves of forwards that simply didn’t come up big when they needed them most. In April of last season, it was hard to find enough offensive power from the Erie squad to make the playoffs. Thus the season ended a bit early, and with a lot of question marks in the minor league offseason. But hope in this department seemingly came at the trade deadline of 2012. That’s where the Avs/Monsters found Mike Connolly.

In February, the San Jose Sharks were bound to make a few moves. And indeed they did, sending Mike Connolly, Jamie McGinn, and Michael Sgarbossa to the Avalanche for T.J. Galiardi, Daniel Winnik, and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft. At that time, Connolly was emerging as a solid rooking scorer going 10-20-30 in 40 games.

In Worcester, where San Jose houses their farm team, the loss of Connolly was big. The Worcester Telgram discussed the trade and the implications of losing Connolly,

Connolly got off to a very hot start, tallying 15 points in his 15 games, then was sidelined for a month after being injured in practice. He was not as effective after the injury, getting 15 points in 25 games, including an 0-1-1 skid in his final six games in a Worcester uniform.

“We lost a really good kid,” coach Roy Sommer said, “who seemed like he was just starting to get it back after the injury. But that’s what we’re here for.”

Assuming Connolly remains in the AHL, he’ll play for the Avalanche’s affiliate in Cleveland.

Despite the injury that knocked him down a peg, Connolly seemed like a solid prospect and an immediate help to the Lake Erie Monsters. 3-4-7 in 13 games is what the Monsters received before being knocked out of playoff contention. Connolly also earned a debut role in the NHL as he skated in two games with the Avalanche.

The Calgary, Alberta born prospect is a former All Rookie and Hobey Baker finalist while at the University of Minnesota – Duluth. He’s a smallish, quick, tenacious forward that isn’t a punishing hitter, but a finesse playmaker. With a lengthy off season, and a potential fresh start with the Lake Erie Monsters, Connolly is likely poised to be a dangerous offensive player.

Connolly himself is slightly surprised by his success. In an interview by John Gilbert of the WCHA following an impressive game, he said, “I’m not a goal scorer. I’ve never scored five goals before. When I got three, I was pretty impressed because I never even had a hat trick before. I never had a hat trick here, or in junior hockey, or even back in midgets.” But he did average over a point a game during his collegiate career, and that’s worth a mention.

The real question is, “Can he start hot and stay hot?” The WCHA Connolly and the early season Worcester Connolly appear to be the same fellow. But post injury, post trade the scorer dipped.

The Worcester Sharks had a hard time scoring last season, as did the Lake Erie Monsters. So with the trade now firmly in the rear view, and a new coach at the helm in Cleveland, there’s no reason to assume that he trends downwards from here on out. He’ll likely even be featured in a top six line in hopes that he’s nudged into returning to point gobbling power.

The Barons will open their third season of play on away ice in Cleveland where they’ll see Mike Connolly first hand. The kid can play. He’s a three year seasoned collegiate player with some smarts between the ears. I’d keep an eye on his progression throughout the early parts of the season and compare it to where he ends up. I think we all will be a bit surprised.