January 16, 2014
TORONTO– There was something noticeable about Connor Brown’s game that made the Maple Leafs take a chance on him with a late pick in the 2012 draft.
Selected in the sixth round by Toronto, Brown was coming off his first season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters.
It was a long season for anyone playing in Erie as they finished dead-last in the league with a 10-52-6 record. Brown was an ugly minus-72 on a team that allowed a league-worst 4.97 goals against per game, but he also showed maturity and a scoring touch as he led the club with 25 goals and 53 points in 68 contests.
“He was a very smart offensive player who was always around the puck,” said Leafs VP of hockey Operations Dave Poulin. “Size was a factor, but obviously he has grown and continues to fill out physically.”
This season Erie is in top spot in the OHL and, while there have been many changes leading to the club’s turn around, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound forward is a major reason for the success.
The Etobicoke, Ont. native was named OHL player-of-the-week on Monday for the second time this season after recording 12 points in three games and he leads the CHL in scoring with 28 goals and 88 points in 43 contests.
So far this season he has had five games with four or more points, including a career-high six-point outing last Sunday against the Windsor Spitfires, and point streaks of eight games or more three times.
“He has continued to get better,” said Poulin. “He is putting up very good numbers consistently and his all round game continues to develop.”
Brown has spent the season on one of the most dangerous lines in the OHL, with over-age sniper Dane Fox and potential first-overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft Connor McDavid.
The trio has dominated the league statistically and the only time they’ve been split up for a significant amount of time was when McDavid played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in early January. Without his go-to winger, Brown produced three goals and 11 points in eight contests.
“If anything (his game) has picked up since that point,” said Poulin.
Brown, who’s in his second season as Erie’s captain, is on pace for 139 points, which would set a new single-season club record, while the Otters are cruising towards their first post-season appearance since 2011.
Each season in Erie he has improved on his offensive numbers and this past November the Leafs signed the 20-year-old to a three-year entry-level contract because of his ability to produce.
In recent years Toronto has drafted many forwards suited for more of a power forward or grinder role, but the club views Brown differently. They see him as a player with a skill set best fitted to play in the top-six and, while it’s most likely he plays in the AHL with the Marlies next season, Poulin would like to see him on one of Leafs top two lines somewhere in the future.
“That would be the curve that would be ideal”.
*Correction: Originally listed Brown as a centre. He is naturally a right-winger