It’s understandable that Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie Connor Brown has been forgotten about. The Leafs have three other rookies that have eclipsed Brown almost immediately: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
While those players only had to wait a short amount of time to make the NHL, Brown’s chance in the NHL has been four years in the making. Brown may be an afterthought when thinking about the Leafs’ best rookie players, but don’t count him out. Brown is set to be the surprise breakout star for the Leafs this season.
Brown’s Road to the NHL
For a player of Brown’s skill it’s been a long four-year road to the NHL. The Leafs drafted Brown 156th overall in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL entry draft. In his draft year, Brown finished with 53 points in 68 games with the Erie Otters. He was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League for the next two years and continued to improve with 69 points in 2012-13 and a league leading 128 points in 2013-14.
Brown then spent the next two seasons playing for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League and continued to impress. In 2014-15, Brown finished with a team-leading 61 points in 76 games with the Marlies.
Brown looked poised to improve in the 2015-16 season but was set back by a broken ankle that left him out of the Marlies’ lineup for most of the season. In his shortened season he finished with 29 points in 34 games.
Brown did get a short glimpse at the NHL last year during the Leafs’ injury-plagued season. He managed six points in seven games before being sent back down to the Marlies.
This season it looks like Brown will be with the Leafs for a larger portion of the season, which is about time. Last season Brown could’ve made the Leafs out of training camp, according to coach Mike Babcock, so this is Brown’s chance at becoming a permanent NHLer.
Fourth Line Competition
Despite being one of the Leafs best prospects, Brown has competition for his fourth line spot in the Leafs lineup.
Initially, it was just Josh Leivo who has also been struggling to break into the NHL, but now there is also Seth Griffith. The Leafs picked up Griffith after the Boston Bruins sent him through waivers and he happens to have a similar skill set as Brown.
The problem for the Leafs and most importantly Brown is that all three players are wingers and one of them will need to be sent down to the Marlies. Leivo is currently on injured reserve, which means he doesn’t contribute to the 23-player roster limit. So while Leivo is injured, the Leafs can have both Griffith and Brown with the team.
Once Leivo recovers it will most likely mean that Brown will be sent down. The reason for that is because Brown is the only player of the three that is exempt from going through waivers. This means he can be called up and sent down without the possibility of being claimed by another team.
Griffith can’t be sent down since the Leafs already claimed him off waivers, which would only leave the option of sending down Leivo. That would put Leivo at risk of being claimed off waivers. So unfortunately for Brown, the smartest move would be to send down Brown.
Sending down Brown is a forgone conclusion unless he can play well enough that the Leafs would be worse without him. The only upside for Brown would be that with the Marlies he would be playing top line minutes and be the first player to be called up to the Leafs when there’s an injury.
Brown is going to be a great player for the Leafs, but he will need to show his worth in a short amount of time to remain in the NHL. If not, he will need to wait a year once again to make the Leafs.