Connor Brown is an average depth forward and that's fantastic

Ryan Hobart
December 19 2016 07:51AM

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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Recently, Connor Brown has been fitting in nicely for the Maple Leafs. It seems like an appropriate time to talk about his performance so far in more detail. He has played all 29 games for the Maple Leafs so far and has seen a lot of faith put in him by Mike Babcock.

Despite being a forward that didn't have to go through waivers, among a sea of depth forwards that the Maple Leafs had in training camp, Connor Brown was able to find a role on this Maple Leafs team. It started on the 4th line with Holland and Martin, grew into a 3rd line role with Nazem Kadri, and now is partially becoming a shared role on Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman's 1st/2nd line (the line TOI is a little muddled) with William Nylander.

There was a pretty strong feeling heading into this year that Brown was going to win the uphill battle of making the roster, knowing how Mike Babcock lauded over his stint with the Maple Leafs last season. Here is his TLN prospect profile written in the summer (by yours truly) for some context. Now that he's here, he's making waves.

When you give Connor Brown the eye-test, he has average speed, average passing, an average shot. Nothing is really special about his skill set. He plays with a lot of energy and that can translate to his linemates, so that's a positive. 

Brown's game perfectly fits the objective of a Mike Babcock depth forward, which is likely a significant reason he made the roster out of camp. This objective is simple: get the puck back quickly when they get into your zone, and score when you can.

STATS

In the past, Brown has certainly shown he has enough skill to put the puck in the net, including an offensively dominant and league-leading draft+2 year in Erie. This is key because many players who are projected to be depth players are projected that way because they played that role in junior. A better model for finding depth scorers is to gather players who score outside the NHL and let them learn the other parts of the game as they develop. This seems to be what the Leafs are doing with Brown, and other forwards who have scored at high clips within their prospect system. So far this season, Connor Brown can score. In addition to the 5v5 stats below, he's 6th on the team in 5v5 primary points per 60, and 8th in 5v5 points per 60 minutes (tied with offensive dynamo William Nylander). This obviously isn't exceptional, but it's enough to be a competitive 3rd line player in the NHL. 

Connor Brown 5v5 Stats CF60 CA60 CF% xGF60 xGA60 xGF% Sh% GF60 Sv% GA60 GF% iPENDIFF
rel 2014-17 League Average 10.7 6.33 1.68 1.00 0.361 5.1 0.860 0.506 -0.339 0.195 2.88 3
rel Leafs w/o Brown 3.02 2.82 0.00 0.100 0.0600 0.18 1.88 0.100 0.57 -0.240 3.19 7

The stats above show a few things, namely:

  • Brown is good at generating shot attempts, but the attempts he gets are not significantly dangerous (CF60 vs xGF60)
  • Brown is not good at preventing shot attempts, but similar to above, the attempts he does allow are not significantly dangerous (CA60 vs xGA60)
  • Brown's above average on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage (almost definitely due to luck and not ability, given his sample is pretty small) directly influence his the numbers of goals he scores and allows (Sh% vs. GF60 and Sv% vs. GA60

Connor Brown 4v5 Stats CA60 FA60 xGA60 GA60
rel 2014-17 League Average 13.2 11.3 1.12 -1.97
rel Leafs w/o Brown 5.83 16.09 1.47 -0.73

Remember that these are all relative Against numbers, so positive is bad (means allowing MORE of the thing that's bad).

Brown has also had a significant role on the penalty kill. He has gotten good results, having the best relative goals-against impact at 4v5 on the team at -0.73 goals per 60 minutes. However, his relative unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) per 60 minutes has been atrocious, causing 16.09 such attempts allowed per 60 more than when he's not on the ice. Certainly some contradicting numbers, but since he has only had 63 minutes of time on ice on the penalty kill, the Fenwick numbers could come back to earth a bit, representing his results a little better.

When comparing the FA60 and CA60 numbers, you see a couple different things. One, the CA60 and FA60 relative to the league average are similar. However, the FA60 is significantly worse relative to the Leafs. This suggests that apart from Brown, the Leafs PK succeeds at blocking shot attempts. It's not surprising at all that a rookie who came up mostly in a scoring role is not being successful in blocking shots on the PK.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

When the qualitative and quantitative analysis is all rolled together, the picture gets painted pretty clearly that Connor Brown is not going to be a special NHL player. But look back to the title! The significant takeaway here should be that it's wonderful that he's a capable NHL player, being a former 6th round pick among the gluttony of forwards that could be on the roster right now. And he's only 22 (soon to be 23)! Eric Tulsky's age model from 2014 concludes that skaters improve (in terms of production) until they're 24. So it'll take a full year from January to really get to what Brown's full capabilities in the NHL are.

So while his play right now isn't flashy or even above average, the Leafs don't need to improve upon Brown as a 3rd line right winger. They can, if they wanted to, but they're not hurting themselves at all by playing Brown in that role.

However, that isn't the role he's playing right now. So the other key take away here should be that Brown should stay down on the 3rd line with Kadri, and should not be taking William Nylander's spot on Auston Matthews' 1st/2nd line. 

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A stats #nerd who loves to think about hockey. Sometimes I write those thoughts down here. Find me on Twitter @ryanhobart84, or on reddit as /u/riversfan17