The Maple Leafs stats page has been a joy to go through, isn’t it? We knew this team would be able to score goals, and to no one’s surprise, they remain one of the league leaders in Goals For. Sure their ability to put the puck in the net has caused them to believe they can outscore their defensive issues, but it’s been a fun ride so far.
Auston Matthews leading the team in goals was the lock of the century, but it also looks like Nazem Kadri hasn’t lost his touch from last season as he sits second on the team with eight. Another eyebrow raiser has been Connor Brown.
TSN’s Kristen Shilton quoted Brown in an article before the start of this season where he said:
We have to put the team first, and a lot of individual success will happen because of it. We’ll be working hard for spots on lines and spots in the lineup…and hopefully it leads to some success in the early going. I want to continue to be relied upon defensively and play structurally like I have throughout my pro career, try to be conscious of that, but I think I have more to give on the offensive side, especially out of the gate. Out of the gate I was a little slow last year, so hopefully I’ll have a good start.”
Well, his start has been far from slow as he sits third in goals on the Leafs with seven.
But should our eyebrows be raised at this? Brown’s 20 goals was another aspect of last season that made it a special one. Then you have to factor in that the Leafs originally drafted the 23-year-old back in 2012 in the 6th round! We have to give Brian Burke and the scouting staff some credit for selecting him despite his relatively small frame (5’11” and 170 pounds) and unattractive plus/minus (-72). Don’t look at me funny, plus/minus was still important back then.
Fast forward to the end of the 2015-16 season, and Brown was making his NHL debut with the Leafs where he scored his first goal. Ironically, it was against Frederik Andersen. Brown was then in the wave of rookies who made the team out of camp the year after. Not only was he given time on both the penalty kill and power play, but he was also the only Leaf that season to play and produce on all four lines.
Connor Brown 2016-17 Production
|Linemates/Area of Play
|Matthews and Hyman
|Kadri and Komorov
|Bozak and JVR
|Holland (Fourth Line)
Unlike Matthews or William Nylander, Brown wasn’t driving possession every night but instead has been one of the most hardworking players in the offensive zone, making sure he was in the right places to score. In fact, the difference in his advanced stats results relative to the rest of the team is intriguing.
A number of players on the team, including Matthews and Kadri, had better 5v5 possession stats when they weren’t playing with Brown. We may be able to disregard this with Kadri considering its only a -0.40 difference in CF%.
The only players on the team who benefited from playing with him (CF-wise) were Nylander, Tyler Bozak, Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, and Martin Marincin. However, Brown wasn’t on the ice with them as much, which could explain the discrepancy. There are two anomalies in Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick who played approximately 365 and 255 minutes over the course of the regular season with Brown but had better numbers when doing so.
Now as bad as it may look, the Leafs have a forward in Brown who may not be able to drive play on his own but can finish on the chances that come his way. It’s pretty cliché, but he does the little things every night which makes members in the hockey community (including fans like myself) warm up to him so well. Keep in mind, he’s started on the fourth line to open the regular season twice but has pushed Babcock reasons to play him at the very least in the top nine.
Babcock on Connor Brown's speed: "It's not that he skates faster than anyone else, his hockey sense is better so he gets there quicker."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 24, 2016
There a lot of possession junkies on the team as it is, and despite his point totals at the moment, Brown isn’t and won’t be the guy relied on upon to generate offence every night, but he can chip in when it counts.
There’s no way Brown scores another 50 goals though (based on his team-leading 41.2% shooting percentage, assuming he has the same number of shots as he did last season), but another 20 goal season is within reach.
How? By doing what he does best. Reading plays, winning puck battles, keeping his stick on the ice or in shooting lanes for deflections, or even taking a shot when it counts. All that, as a complementary guy. A player who will go to battle for you every night and play up and down in the lineup if need be.
That’s what makes Downtown Connor Brown, Downtown Connor Brown.