2024 NHL Draft

Trevor Connelly Under Microscope In 2024 NHL Draft Season

Trevor Connelly Under Microscope In 2024 NHL Draft Season

Few players can dominate a game like Tri-City Storm forward Trevor Connelly, who is working to prove himself after past off-ice mistakes.

Feb 16, 2024 by Ryan Sikes

Few players can dominate a game like Tri-City Storm forward Trevor Connelly. However, the 17-year-old is arguably the most controversial talent eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft after an incident that took place in March 2022.

Connelly's character was brought into question when he and a teammate posted an offensive picture on social media depicting a swastika made of children's building blocks in a library. The picture was quickly removed, but not before a screenshot of the post circulated.

Connelly was removed from his team ahead of the USA Hockey National Championships that same spring as a result of the post.

Since then, the California native has taken various steps to educate himself and rebuild his reputation. 

Connelly visited the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum, read numerous books about the Holocaust and continues to volunteer in nearby communities, as well as with initiatives geared towards making hockey more inclusive.

He is the latest NHL Draft prospect under the microscope, as incidents with previous prospects in recent drafts has heightened teams' diligence when it comes to off-ice issues in a player's past. 

While some may argue that Connelly’s offense is not as severe as previous incidents, prospective NHL teams still may be hesitant to draft him. Connelly's incident could be an isolated occurrence, but clubs are continuing to investigate and assess the player's character before determining if he is a player they want on their team.

Despite the concerns, Connelly says his initial conversations with NHL clubs have been largely positive.

“I think the NHL teams respect the amount of time and effort he put into proving that that’s not him, educating himself on the subject and wanting to just show who he is and what he really is about,” Tri-City head coach Anthony Noreen told FloHockey.

The on-ice ability of Connelly is indisputable. He is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and recently was ranked as the No. 5 overall North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings. He is listed 13th overall on FloHockey's recently-released NHL Draft rankings.

His skillset checks all the boxes scouts look for in an NHL draft prospect. 

Connelly can skate with speed. He can create and make plays on his own. He can read plays and sense when to attack and has an advanced awareness of where everyone is on the ice, attracting a ton of attention, so he can help his teammates get in position for quality scoring chances.

Connelly has established a reputation over the past two seasons for delivering in critical moments. 

Last season, it was the forward establishing a Storm-record 18-game point streak in the second half. 

This season, Connelly has shown up, especially in international events, such as the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in August and the World Junior A Challenge in December.

“Just wearing the USA jersey, I take a lot of pride with it,” Connelly told FloHockey. “I definitely don’t take it for granted. I think going into those events, I have the mindset that, ‘I will not be denied in these events, and I am going to dominate them.’”

Connelly opened a lot of eyes at both showcases, using his speed and skating ability to create plays from nothing or keep the plays alive with his feet to create scoring opportunities for others.

At the Hlinka, he finished tied for the most points (10) among all skaters in the tournament, helping Team USA earn a bronze medal.

In the WJAC preliminary game against Sweden, Connelly wowed the crowd with a dazzling play by grabbing the puck mid-air with his back to the net and roofing it past the goalie. 

He concluded the tournament with a tremendous performance in the bronze-medal game, scoring four goals in the Americans’ 8-5 victory. Connelly's final goal in that game was a lacrosse-style goal that captivated the audience, outdoing his previous goal against Sweden in the preliminary round.

“I was thinking to myself the night before and the day of the (bronze medal) game, ‘People realize their first showing of you and your last showing,’” Connelly said. “I had a really good start, and I just wanted to make sure I had a really good finish. The puck was definitely bouncing my way that game.”

Waterloo Black Hawks coach Matt Smaby, who was the head coach for Team USA at the WJAC, was able to get a firsthand look at Connelly, both on and off the ice.

“Man-oh-man,” Smaby said, amazed at Connelly’s skillset. “He does things that you just don't teach, and he sees things differently than other guys. His playmaking ability, especially in tight, his ability to kind of create his own time and space and create separation, is different and different in kind of a way that's special.”

“Off the ice, personality stuff, he asks a lot of questions,” Smaby added. “He was engaged in what it was we were trying to do and trying to accomplish – the team game that we’re trying to play – always looking for feedback as to how he was doing within our team structure and setup. In regards to that, having not known him really other than playing against him, I was impressed with the body of work that he put together.”

Despite his achievements at the Hlinka prior to his second USHL season, Connelly got off to a modest start compared to how he concluded the second half of the 2022-2023 season, where he had 37 points in 36 games.

Going into Thanksgiving weekend, the Providence College commit was not scoring at the same rate, recording just four goals and 16 assists through the first 17 games.

“It probably wasn’t the start that most people would have expected for me,” Connelly admitted. “But I think if people watch the games and saw what was happening in the games, they'd see that I was getting a chance every shift or every other shift. The puck wasn’t bouncing my way at the start of the year, but I was still playing really good hockey.”

Since then, Connelly has been one of the USHL's hottest players, scoring 13 goals and 28 points in his last 17 games. His 48 points rank fifth in the league.

Moreover, Connelly has built another impressive point streak, recently extending it to 11 games. 

With Tri-City yet to find its surge, the young forward felt another lengthy point streak would be crucial, not only for his draft stock, but also for his team's placement in the Western Conference standings. 

But Connelly no longer is just an offensive dynamo. 

He has evolved into a well-rounded player since he began playing on the penalty kill last season. The new role required him to be defensively responsible and use his speed to apply a heavy forecheck in the defensive zone to force errant passes. 

Consequently, Connelly’s 200-foot game in five-on-five play also has improved significantly this season, which was his primary objective entering his draft-eligible year.

“I wanted to show people that I can also be a workhorse with not just a skill game,” he said. “I can forecheck hard, and I can play on the PK. I think definitely just showing more teams that I can play in all situations and up and down the lineup.”

Noreen also shared some thoughts on Connelly’s defensive improvements this year. 

“His 200-foot game has gotten a lot better,” Noreen said. “We all know he’s got offense and he can score, but some of his play without the puck, his defending job on the penalty kill, bringing energy when there’s not a play there to be made, I think he’s just done a really good job in his overall game of adding layers to it.”

In the home stretch of Connelly's draft-eligible season, the young forward is eager to continue accumulating points, accolades and everything that comes with that. 

Nevertheless, the conversation often turns from the ice to the off-ice issue that had plagued him as a younger player and whether teams are willing to take on any potential backlash. All Connelly can do at this point is allow his play do the talking for his on-ice game and continue to put the work in off the ice to show he's grown from mistakes of the past.

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