December 15, 2014
TORONTO– Prospect Connor Brown may be a rookie in the AHL, but his coaches don’t see him that way.
The 20-year-old has been Toronto’s best forward on most nights this season and has hardly looked out of place in his first season of pro hockey.
While the Marlies struggled early in the year, with a nine-game losing streak spanning most of November, Brown was one of the few players who continued to show up consistently on the score sheet.
Through 26 games, the Toronto native has produced seven goals and 21 points, which leads his club and is good enough for third in AHL rookie scoring.
“He’s leading our team in scoring but it’s not always the offensive side. He’s diligent at both ends of the rink,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen. “He comes engaged every day. If there’s a critique with him, he sometimes tries to do too much. Sometimes when the team’s struggling he’s out there trying to make a difference and maybe plays outside himself. But he’s real professional and I’ll take 20 of those guys every night.”
Despite Brown’s lack of experience, Dineen hasn’t stayed away from increasing his role with the club as the season’s now past the quarter-pole mark. Brown has been playing the right side on Toronto’s top line and eats lots of minutes on the power play.
“I think I’m happy with the amount I’m contributing,” said Brown. “The roles I’ve been put in and the trust bestowed on me, to be put out in key situations— that’s something I’m proud of.”
Through his junior career, Brown was seen as more of a playmaker than anything else, but with the backing of his coaches he’s looking to change that.
“When I came into this league I was definitely a pass-first mentality guy,” said Brown. “(But) it’s a different league and you don’t get as many opportunities to score and don’t want to pass them up. Coaches have been on me to shoot more, so if I’m in the scoring areas I’m looking to shoot now.”
Since Toronto’s nine-game skid ended, the Marlies have gone 5-1-1 in large part to Brown, who has four goals and nine points in those seven outings.
“Consistency is key, every single player gets hot and cold, you just try to keep hot streaks long, approach every day the same,” said Brown.
In a 6-5 overtime loss to the St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday, Brown, again, was the most dominate Marlies forward offensively, scoring twice and producing eight shots on net.
His first goal showed his skill set as he picked the top corner on the short side while on the power play. Goal number two wasn’t as pretty as he converted his second chance after the puck rolled off his stick in front of the IceCaps net.
“I was behind the net, (the goalie) kind of turned and it went in off his pad,” said Brown. “You see the NHL now, so many goals are scored on rebounds and stuff like that. You got to find ways to score because there’s not many chances to walk down Broadway.”
“He’s an awesome player, hard worker who sees the ice very well,” added linemate Matt Frattin. “He goes to the dirty areas. He keeps going to the net and banging in rebounds, it’s good to see.”
Brown, who was selected by the Maple Leafs 156th overall in 2012, caught extra attention last season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters— putting up 45 goals and 128 points in 68 games to earn three awards, including the Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player.
Phenom Connor McDavid has been given major credit for Brown’s successes at the junior level, as the two were linemates for most of the 2013-14 campaign, however Brown acknowledges Leaf skating consultant Barb Underhill for his improvements in his game since being selected by Toronto.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with her since I was drafted,” said Brown. “When I was drafted skating wasn’t one of my strong suits, she’s really helped me with that and I think it’s a stronger part of my game now.”
At five-foot-11 and 170 pounds, the knock on Brown has been his size and if he could transition into pro hockey. That concern, however, has never been an issue in his mind.
“I think I can get bigger and stronger, that will only help my game,” said Brown. “But I’ve always been strong beyond my size and try to make myself hard on pucks. I don’t feel weak out there or getting pushed around.”
In the past five seasons, Nazem Kadri is the only Toronto prospect to produce more points-per game in his rookie season than Brown. Kadri registered 41 points in 44 games in 2010-11.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon leads all AHL rookies in scoring with nine goals and 30 points in 27 games, which is also good for top spot amongst all skaters in the league. Boston Bruins prospect David Pastrnak is second with seven goals and 23 points in 21 contests.