August 21 2013 05:07AM
Name: Connor Brown
Position: Right Wing
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Size: 5'11", 170lb
2013 Team: Erie Otters (OHL)
Acquired: Draft - 6th round, 2012
At number eighteen on our list we have the Leafs’ 2012 sixth round pick, and Erie Otters’ winger, Connor Brown. As has been pointed out in the past, the Leafs are not only deep at wing on the current roster, but throughout their prospect pool as well. Brown is coming off his second OHL season, where he led the Otters in scoring with 28 goals and 41 assists in 63 games.
The current captain of the Otters is described by many as a small player with a lot of offensive skill, with his game away from the puck needing some attention. Playing a lot of minutes for the worst team in the OHL has crushed this guy in the plus/minus department over the past two seasons, but Brown, and the Otters as a whole, have made strides toward improving recently, and this is why you’ll likely see his name start popping up more often.
Brown is a late-round “swing for the fences” type pick; a player with enough raw talent to outweigh the current flaws in his game. The Leafs most likely see him as someone with a high offensive ceiling, but requiring a lot of coaching and conditioning to get him there. I think this is the big reason why folks at this site and others will keep an eye out for Brown in the coming season as an intriguing prospect in the Leafs’ system. The idea is to maximize the amount of purely talented guys you can pull from the draft instead of “safe” picks (typically skaters with a physical edge and hands of stone, capping out as checking-line forwards), and Brown looks to be an example of the former.
When the Leafs took Brown after a season which saw him at minus-72 for the Otters in 2012, of course everyone jumped on him for being a liability on the defensive side of the puck. But the Otters were bad. Really bad. 338 goals-against in 68 games kind of bad. How much of that you can attribute to Brown personally being a poor defensive player is questionable.
“It was a pretty big number and, of course, people are going to think twice about you. But it definitely wasn’t because of lack of commitment to defence. I was on a poor team playing so much against the top lines. That definitely took a toll on that number.”
Brown saw his plus/minus climb to minus-11 this past season, while the Otters improved slightly, but remained the worst team in the OHL. The past two years must have been frustrating, but with the phenom Connor McDavid in the fold and going in to his second season, it looks like Erie can now turn the corner and should put forward a more dangerous offensive attack. Brown will obviously be a huge part of that. I recently contacted Victor Fernandes, who covers the Otters for the Erie Times-News, and he provided some thoughts on Brown’s role as the club’s leader.
“The first thing you notice about Connor is his desire, passion and emotion. He's a true captain in that sense. He takes what happens to this team very seriously. I know the past couple seasons have been very hard on him.”
At only 5’11, Brown’s size will often be viewed negatively, but as Fernandes points out, his offensive game certainly isn’t suffering because of it.
“He's not a big guy but he can play big (meaning he has no fear in traffic, along the boards or in front of the net) and he's got enough speed to offset his smaller frame. He understands where to be on the ice, especially since he was paired with Connor McDavid last year. He worked hard to always be in the right place at right time because he knew McDavid would find him. Brown also was good at finding his linemates and, overall, just making the smart play.”
Though Brown’s speed is enough to keep him afloat in junior, it sounds like he’ll need to hit another level in order to keep climbing the Leafs’ prospect ranks.
From the OHL Prospects blog by Brock Otten:
“He still needs to get quicker, especially if he wants to continue to play with Connor McDavid. Adding more explosiveness to his first few strides would make him a significantly more dangerous offensive player."
Thankfully Brown has been doing just that, working with Leafs’ skating coach Barb Underhill over the summer.
“She’s helped my balance, but more importantly my speed. I’ve become a lot faster over the summer. I really notice it.”
As for his defensive play, Fernandes’ observations are in line with Brown’s opinion of himself.
“He's decent on the defensive end, but that's a side of his game he could work on (as they all could on this team). It wasn't from a lack of effort. Actually, I think he tried to do too much at times to offset mistakes from lesser experienced teammates.”
On an improving team, alongside McDavid, the biggest name in junior hockey, Brown is set to have a huge year ahead of him in terms of developing his game. It probably isn’t a stretch to expect up to 80-90 points, and if the Otters really are an improved club, he should be able flourish without having to make up for others’ inexperience.
As a sixth round pick, the odds are obviously stacked against Brown becoming an NHLer, but if he turns out, it looks like it will be in an important offensive role rather than just a guy who battles it out for the fourth line. He’s definitely a talented player in an interesting situation in Erie with the 2015 draft-eligible McDavid, so I wouldn't be surprised if he starts receiving more attention in the hockey world this winter.
Previously in the Top 20:
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