Few players get an opportunity to play for their childhood team. Connor Brown is living that dream and making the most of it. With seven points in his past five games including a goal and two assists in the Centennial Classic, Brown’s showing the offensive capabilities he displayed with both the Erie Otters and the Toronto Marlies.
Brown was the Maple Leafs 6th round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He was the leading scorer (53 points) on a very bad Erie Otters team that finished with 26 points. Yes, you read that right. The 2011-2012 edition of the Erie Otters had 26 points with only 10 Wins. The following season, Brown once again led the Erie Otters in points (69) playing alongside 15-year-old phenome Connor McDavid. In his final season as a member of the Otters, Brown exploded with 128 points all while playing a solid defensive game.
Brown joined the Marlies for the 2014-2015 season leading all rookies in points with 61. After another dominating half season with the Marlies, Brown would be called up to the Maple Leafs where he would pick up 6 points in 7 games. From his standout play with the Marlies to him looking at home with the Leafs, it was clear Brown had a home in the NHL. On most other teams, Brown would likely be a top 3 prospect. On the Leafs, he’s flown under the radar of the big three, which parallels his abilities as a player.
Brown is fifth on the Leafs in Primary Points per 60 at even strength at 1.44. For reference, that mark would put him among the top 100 forwards (minimum 500 minutes). Players with similar rates of even strength scoring include Derrick Brassard, James van Riemsdyk, and Scott Hartnell. After starting out on the fourth line, Brown moved his way up to the Kadri line for shutdown duties. The line held their own having a positive shot differential. Recently, Brown has gotten the to ride shotgun with rookie stalwart Auston Matthews as Babcock eases in the Leafs star into more difficult situations.
Babcock has relied on Brown on the penalty kill. The Etobicoke native has the second highest PK time among Leaf forwards behind Zach Hyman. On this play on the penalty kill, Brown pressures Duncan Keith and skates well enough not to let Keith get away. Keith then has to play the puck back. Later in the play, Brown reads the pass and stops it allowing the Leafs defender to clear the puck out. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brown forces Alex Killorn into a tough spot by taking away his passing lane with his body and stick. Killorn has no space to create as Brown suffocates his space. Killorn is stuffed into the boards leading to a turnover and the Maple Leafs dumping the puck back into the Lightning zone.
Other times, Brown is capable of using his speed effectively. Brown outraces Torey Krug to the puck, pretends to turn back only to keep skating around the net leading to a scoring chance. Brown’s hockey intelligence is one of his better characteristics. In the first game vs Edmonton, Brown outbattled Oscar Klefbom for the puck and fed a nice pass to Kadri for the goal. He reads the game well which is something that will allow him to flourish with most players.
Brown has no issue skating with the puck either. In the same game against the Blackhawks above, Brown skates the puck out the Leafs zone into the Blackhawks. Recently, Brown has gotten some time on the powerplay. Despite not being a big player, Brown has no problem screening the goalie. He can fight for loose pucks and serves as a good complement to more creative players like William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Brown has good offensive instincts and scored a nice goal against the Arizona Coyotes.
There’s no doubt Connor Brown has a bright future. He does not have the high end skill of the Leafs big 3 but he does many things well with a strong sense of how the game flows. Brown is a player that can play in any situation with almost any teammate. He’s on pace for 36 points this season which is second line territory these days in the NHL. For a rookie, that’s pretty good.