TLN Prospect Profile #8: Connor Brown

ConnorBrown

I’m going to go ahead and call out my fellow TLN writers (except for Jeffler, who’s more of a Canucks writer anyway, lol) for ranking Connor Brown too low. I had Brown as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ fourth best prospect, while all of the other voters (except Jeff) did not. They are all wrong.

In last year’s midterm ranking, Brown sat in the #4 spot (while I ranked him third). With no major prospect graduations, a great 2015 draft and a Phil Kessel trade since those rankings took place, it was to be expected that Brown could be pushed down a few spots through no fault of his know. But to drop all the way down to eight is insane and unjust. Maybe I am too bullish on Brown, but I think I have good reason.

Last Season

Brown did pretty much everything we could have asked for in his first pro season. A certified star player for the OHL Erie Otters prior, Brown burst onto the AHL scene with 21 goals and 61 points in 76 games, leading the Toronto Marlies (and all AHL rookies) in scoring. Brown was also named to the AHL All-Rookie team and represented the Marlies and the Western Conference at the 2015 AHL All-Star Game.

It’s clear that Brown’s offensive game didn’t suffer the jump to professional hockey, but it was even more surprising to see his lesser known defensive game translate as well. 

From the always fantastic KyleTheReporter.com

According to [Marlies Head Coach Gord] Dineen, what’s been most impressive isn’t what he’s been doing in the offensive end of the ice but how he’s been able to improve other aspects of his game in the other two zones.
“He’s been defensively responsible, plays a complete game and is a guy that’s so easy to coach,” said Dineen. “If anything you have to reign him back. That’s a credit to him for his desire to be a better hockey player.”

Scouting Report

We’re a few years out from Brown being drafted by the Leafs, so the regular suspects and their draft scouting reports don’t really apply anymore. Luckily, Brown was recently ranked as the Leafs’ 5th best prospect by ESPN’s Corey Pronman and the 72nd best prospect in the entire NHL. Here’s Pronman’s great write-up… [Paywall]

Brown was one of the top rookies in the AHL this season, putting up big scoring numbers while also logging minutes in defensive situations. He’s a very smart two-way forward with above-average skill whose skating looked a lot more impressive when I saw him live this season as opposed to last season in the OHL. Brown isn’t a blow-you-away dynamic skill player, but he is talented and with that base, plus his character and hockey IQ, he could end up a quality NHL player.

The part about skating in particular is really interesting, as it has long been the biggest knock on Brown’s game. If he’s skating better than he was in junior, where he was often described as average and maybe even awkward, the rest of his game is good enough that Brown projects as a offensive-minded second line guy. Despite being listed as 5’11 and 170lbs, Brown doesn’t move around as quickly as a lot of other undersized players do. You can live with lack of top-end speed if he at least makes his way around the ice efficiently. 

The Road Ahead

While we can be really happy with his progression so far, it’s important to not get carried away. Brown should spend all of next season with the Marlies again, as the Leafs are loaded up with average but established NHL players up front. Brown will certainly get more out of sticking with a shockingly young Marlies roster and pushing for a deep playoff run than he would battling for bottom-six ice time on a bad NHL team.

And with all due respect to the last year’s roster, Brown should be returning to a much more talented one this season at Ricoh. A potential top line of Kapanen-Nylander-Brown is drool-worthy, though it’s likely that the youth and skill will be spread out a bit.

Concluding Thoughts

Eighth best prospect? I highly disagree, but am willing to admit that Toronto’s second tier of prospects are all very nice pieces that offer different things. For my fellow writers to value similarly talented players over Brown, I can understand that. They’re still wrong, but I understand. Only a handful of votes separated Brown from four players ranked ahead of him, so this very easily could have gone a very different way. I suppose it’s a good problem to have.

  • Jeremy Ian

    do brown/kapanen play left wing because they’re natural right wingers. i think he’ll be the 2nd line right winger while kapanen plays with nylander unless they want a more defensively responsible player up with nylander. either way, he can definitely keep up with nylander skill-wise. forget the leafs. the marlies will be so fun to watch. i can’t wait.

  • Leafydudetwitter

    The knock on his skating has always troubled me. Guys can make it in the NHL with sub-par skill, or overcompensate with a high end single skill, like playmaking, or penalty killing, but rarely do sub par skaters succeed in the increasingly fast NHl. I hope another full year either helps him improve that, or really allow his to hone his scoring craft and just be efficient in all zones.

    • Leafydudetwitter

      I think its more likely for guys like that to succeed in a prominent role skating can be taught offensive instincts and prowess is more so down to natural ability and this guy has it by the bucket full.

    • Davwud

      I say under. But barely.
      I think either Sid or Gino will have big goal totals. I see Phil as more of a play maker. His lack of one timer and penchant for avoiding the front of the net where all the garbage is will probably keep him from being an elite level goal scorer. But he will have a fabulous year points wise.

    • Gary Empey

      I do think Phil is under-rated as a passer/play-maker so who knows. Sid and Phil at top speed will be ridiculous so, no matter what, they’ll be a hoot to watch.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Anyone who watched the Marlies knows what Brown is. A young player who will continuously exceed whatever expectations are placed on him.
    Character, talent, work ethic and a passion to always be better, this is a player that will turn heads and make the Leaf fans smile for years to come.

    At least Nonis got a few picks right in the draft however he might have pulled a Fletcher and claimed senility when he thought he was drafting a defenseman named Finger and made a mistake?

  • SEER

    One of my favorite Leaf prospects, for sure.., Justin… I’d actually like to see him on a line with Verhaeghe…, as I think they would gel well together.., but I trust the coaching staff’s decisions.

    So many new faces this season, that I have been waiting to see join the Marlies… I was hoping that Andreas would also be one of them, but sounds like he’s taking one more year before coming over.. Still.., we will see a lot of them in camp…and in some of the Rookie Tournament games..

    Adding Gauthier, Verhaghe, Kapanen, Bailey (maybe, if he doesn’t crack the Leafs), Zach Hyman, Harrington (if he doesn’t make the Leafs), possibly Toninato and others.. is going to make the Marlies very much a Calder-Contender, I feel…

    And can’t forget our new Marlies Coach (Sheldon Keefe), from the Greyhounds… He and Dineen together will be something special.. Nurse will want to be traded to Toronto, now… Keefe was a big help to him…

    CONNOR BROWN 2014-15 HIGHLIGHT MONTAGE

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPi05p9W3b4

  • Jeremy Ian

    Yeah, I am with Jon and others — Brown only dropped because the Leafs did a great job restocking their prospect ranks. Though he’s developing as we all hope, it’s more a tribute to management than a knock on him.

    But I agree with your bottom line, the Leafs should let the Marlies be the Marlies this year and not ask the younger guys to labour on a struggling Leafs team.

    The only thing that concerns me is that the Leafs will flip a number of their one-year contracts for draft picks and that will open up holes. Will Dubas and Babcock then have to call up Marlies to plug those holes, when it would be great to see the Marlies push deep in their playoffs?

  • silentbob

    I see Brown, hopefully, ending up being a lot like Chris Drury (during his time with the Av’s, or the early Ranger years – not the over achieving Saber years, I think that would be unfairly aiming too high)

  • magesticRAGE

    Brown is a gamer. He just gets the job done. When I see him play, I see Captain. I’d like for him to play a little more physical, but that’s not his game. I think he’ll be on Nylander’s wing, opposite to Leipsic. Brown will be fed all season long!
    I’d rank Brown around 5-6, due to his ability to succeed regardless. Stuff like that can’t be ignored.

  • Gary Empey

    I would never under-estimate Brown. Babcock’s teams move the puck up the ice with efficiently with several quick passes which (I’ve heard said) tires out the opposing team and may suit Brown perfectly. In the meantime, he may have Barb to work with over the coming year.