Maple Leafs’ Conner Brown: Former Gamble, Now Top-6

Connor Brown is currently the Toronto Maple Leafs’ starting first line left winger, playing with center John Tavares and right winger Mitch Marner. Success wasn’t always expected for the 24-year-old forward. He was viewed as a draft-day gamble because he is slightly undersized at 6-foot and 183 pounds and has a history of poor plus-minus statistics.

In this post, in part because there is a lull in the schedule and in part because I am trying to learn more about all the Maple Leafs players, I am reviewing Brown’s “story.” In my six weeks of covering the team for The Hockey Writers, it has been easy to write about Auston Matthews, Marner or Tavares because they are always in the news and on the scoresheet. However, other important young players on the team are not always heard or read about. Brown is one of them.

In previous posts, I have reviewed Zach Hyman and Russian defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov. In this post, I want to share more history about Brown.

Related – Zaitsev & Ozhiganov: The Maple Leafs “Quiet” Russians

Brown’s 2018-19 Season

This season, Brown is off to a slow start with only 13 points (three goals and 10 assists) in 39 games. It isn’t the start he was hoping for in his third season with the Maple Leafs. However, his three-assist, plus-three night during the 7-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 18 suggests his potential. This performance snapped a six-game pointless streak.

Sadly, however, Brown is now pointless in four straight games. For a team that scores a lot of goals, excluding recent 4-0 whitewashing by the New York Islanders, one would think his point total would be higher.

Brown’s History: He Had the Worst Plus/Minus in the OHL

When Brown joined the Erie Otters for the 2011–12 season, he led the team with 25 goals, 28 assists and 53 points. He was also named to the OHL’s All-Rookie Team. But more remarkable about his season than his scoring was his horrible minus-72. It was the worst plus/minus of any player in the league and occurred on an Otters team that was regularly outscored and finished last in the league.

Connor Brown (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

But finishing last can be a negative that sometimes turns into a positive. Because the team finished last, it drafted first overall. Guess who they used that pick on. The Otters’ first overall draft pick was current Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid. That draft choice made a difference to both the Otters and to Brown’s future.

Brown Was a Great Partner with McDavid

Brown returned to the Otters for the 2012–13 season and was named the team’s captain. During that season, playing on McDavid’s wing, he scored 45 goals and 128 points in 68 games. He was the OHL’s top-scoring player and set the Otters’ all-time record for most points in a season.

The success Brown experienced that season led to his sixth-round selection in the 2012 Entry Draft by his hometown Maple Leafs. He is, as Don Cherry calls it, an “Ontario Boy.”

In Brown’s first season with the Toronto Marlies, he won the AHL rookie scoring title with 21 goals and 61 points. In March 2016, the Maple Leafs recalled him for the first time and he scored his first goal on March 24, 2016, against current Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen who was then tending net for the Anaheim Ducks.

Since the 2016-17 season, Brown has been a regular with the Maple Leafs. Although he was viewed as undersized, he is durable and hasn’t missed a regular-season game since 2016-17. On Aug. 26, 2017, he signed a three-year contract worth 2.1 million annually.

Where Brown Is Now? Where He Might Go

Brown’s scouting report noted: “He has proven capable of putting up very good numbers at lower levels, thanks largely to good offensive instincts. Is also plenty resilient and somewhat tenacious in his approach.” It also noted that he is a “solid, two-way” winger. In some ways, that report has proved correct. Brown has a good shot, is a good skater and is most-of-all, a reliable player.

Connor Brown, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Connor Brown should be considered an important part of the Leafs’ future. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s not flashy or a “showcase” player, but the Maple Leafs have several showcase players already on the roster. That Brown is consistent and reliable – a “lunch pail” player – suggests his value to the team. As an Aug. 2018 review of Maple Leafs’ prospects suggested: “He’s the kind of player that Bruce Springsteen would write a song about.”

If only Brown could score more. It must be frustrating for a player with a history of success scoring in the OHL to be regularly blanked on the score sheet.

Related – Maple Leafs News: Nylander, Lamoriello, Matthews & Team MVP