The Ottawa Senators’ last few seasons have seen many new faces. Rugged veterans and established NHL players such as Mika Zibanejad, Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Dion Phaneuf, Mark Stone, Derick Brassard, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, Marc Methot, and Robin Lehner have departed and made way for younger players and prospects as the Senators continue their rebuild. One player who has joined the Senators’ ranks and had an immediate impact has been versatile winger Connor Brown.
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Since coming over in a trade last summer from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brown has fit in like a new glove in the city of Ottawa. His persona, energy, leadership, and work ethic has instantly rubbed off on this group of up-and-comers. Even more so, his on-ice production has been phenomenal, finishing runner-up to Brady Tkachuk for the team lead in scoring. Let’s take a look back at Brown’s first season in Ottawa and just how much of an impact he had with the Senators.
The Trade: Toronto to Ottawa
Last summer, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion orchestrated a pretty substantial trade with division foes, Toronto. In the deal, Brown became a Senator along with Russian-born defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. Going back the other way were Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, and a 2020 third-round draft pick. At the time, Dorion praised the deal because he was able to acquire two every day, NHL-caliber players who could slot right into the Sens lineup. The deal paid instant dividends, as both Brown and Zaitsev hit the ground running.
Throughout his time in Toronto, Brown was commended from former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock on a regular basis. It was Babcock who adored his preparation, commitment, ability to play the game the right way, and how he worked hard and earned the privilege to be in the NHL.
This was quite the compliment from such an esteemed coach like Babcock, but more importantly, it really sums up who Brown is as a player and how much value he can bring to any organization. That was exactly the type of mindset and attitude that Dorion envisioned when he made the deal. As we look back on his first season in Canada’s capital city, few would argue that he’ll be a massive hit amongst the Senators’ faithful for years to come.
Career Highs Aplenty
Brown’s game reached new heights during the 2019-20 campaign, posting several career highs across many integral statistical categories. For starters, his ice time skyrocketed, averaging 20:07 per game as opposed to only 13:48 the season prior. It’s cliche, but one of the biggest compliments you can receive as a player is an influx of both trust and ice time. Brown was a recipient of both during his first season as a Senator, and then some.
Brown also posted career highs in assists (27), points (43), shots on goal (173), hits (39), and takeaways (52) in 71 games. He capped off a notable first season in Ottawa by netting 16 goals. Only Anthony Duclair and Tkachuk had more goals than Brown over the course of the year.
In addition to his statistical production, Brown’s successful campaign can also be attributed to his head coach. His familiarity and comfort level with first-year Senators head coach D.J. Smith was evident right from the get-go. The two formed an excellent relationship, having previously been together in Toronto, where Smith served as an assistant coach under Babcock.
This played an important role for Brown, who was able to make a seamless transition to Ottawa after spending his entire career up to that point in Toronto. It’s never easy being traded, but the connection between Brown and Smith had an immediate impact on Brown’s stellar play for the Senators.
Integral Piece of the Puzzle
Over the past couple of seasons in Ottawa, much of the chatter has surrounded the team’s rebuild and the transition to younger players. With that being said, the Sens will also need some experienced players to aid with the younger ones and embody just what it means to be a pro. If I’m one of the youngsters in Ottawa, I’d want Brown to take me under his wing.
At 26 years of age, Brown is the picture-perfect player for the Senators. He’s a good skater, intelligent with the puck, and has the ability to play anywhere amongst the Senators’ top-nine forward core. He understands what it means to not only make the NHL, but to be an everyday fixture in a very competitive league where nothing is given and everything is earned. As the Senators’ prospects evolve into everyday NHLers, they will certainly look to Brown for guidance, support, and leadership.
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For as good a person Brown is off the ice, he’s also a very good player on it. He’s durable, works hard, and is the consummate teammate. Brown never missed a game during his time in Toronto and played all 71 games this season in Ottawa. During his rookie season in Toronto, Brown tallied 20 goals and played much of the season on the top line alongside Auston Matthews. Brown is a “coach’s dream” because of his skill, flexibility, and ability to be extremely low-maintenance. There really is nothing Brown can’t do for the Senators, which makes him such a valued commodity within the organization.
Brown will want to pick up right where he left off as both he and the Senators eagerly await the start of next season. Despite missing the playoffs, there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a fan — the team owns one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. The Senators also possess the third and fifth-overall selections at the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft, further adding to the plethora of young talent soon to be on full display in Ottawa.
On the ice, Brown will be relied upon to once again provide leadership, goal scoring, and presence to a young Sens roster. If he’s anywhere as effective as he was during the 2019-20 campaign, then Senators fans and the entire hockey world as a whole will be in for a real treat.