For the first time since drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Connor Brown has been unanimously recognized as a top ten prospect by the TLN staff. A skilled yet undersized winger, Brown showed steady improvement up until last season, when he broke out and dominated the Ontario Hockey League. In 68 games with the Erie Otters last season, Brown scored 45 goals and led the OHL (and CHL) with 128 points. For his efforts, Brown was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
There aren’t many hockey people out there who will deny that Brown possesses plenty of offensive talent, but there are still question marks in his game.
Yes, Brown put up lofty numbers last season, but he did so as a 20-year old playing against largely younger competition. Brown is also not a plus-skater, even though he’s only 5’11 and 160 pounds, and he certainly isn’t known for his defensive prowess. There’s a lot to like about Brown’s skill set, but there are a number of things working against him that demands a realist approach to projecting him.
Brown is eligible to join the Toronto Marlies this coming season in what would be his first taste of professional hockey. Otherwise, it’s back to the OHL for his overage year, though it’s hard to imagine there’s much Brown has left to learn at the Junior level.
He’s in a good situation, as the Marlies certainly lack the pure offensive skill that Brown brings, especially if Peter Holland and Carter Ashton stick in the NHL as expected. However, Brown will need to produce early and often if he hopes to wrestle a top-six role from one of Spencer Abbott or Brandon Kozun down the right side.
In the meantime, you can take solace in the fact that Brown has spent a considerable amount of time working on his skating with Barb Underhill, and has had the opportunity to train with Leafs staff in what is now three prospect camps. Rounding out his skills away from the puck and improving his skating will be necessary if Brown wants to play in the NHL, as it’s unlikely his offensive skill will outright make up for his inefficiencies at the pro level.
There will certainly be high expectations for Brown in his first pro season, but the Leafs would be wise to exercise patience and give Brown every opportunity to further develop his skill set and round out his game. Despite his warts, Brown is a rarity in the organization – there’s only one, maybe two players in the Leafs’ prospect pool that have as much offensive skill. Brown’s upside is that of second line scoring winger, but failing that it’s hard to see where he fits into an NHL lineup. As much as the phrase is overused, it applies – Brown is a top-six-or-bust kind of prospect.