Connor Brown made a huge jump this year, from #14 to #8. Doing so would be impressive, but doing so with a whole bunch of new kids in town is even more impressive. Making his AHL debut Brown racked up 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points in 76 regular season games, and added another 4 points (1G, 3A) in the Marlies first round playoff loss to Grand Rapids.
I like to call Connor Brown "Ol -72" because his rookie year in the OHL the Erie otters were, as my 7 year old would say, epic bad, and he posted a -72 in the +/- column. They were so bad and badly run they only brought 1 goalie on a road trip and had to put forward Connor Crisp in net. That didn't affect my ranking of Brown, I just like to bring that up.
Coming into the season Brown had people lining up excuses for a poor performance in advance this year with the ol' "He only looked good because he played with McDavid" line. [Note: The Otters at one point did have a Connor line: Connor Brown, Connor McDavid, Connor Crisp] He sure told them to cram it with walnuts by placing 12th in AHL scoring and first overall in rookie scoring last season.
We spoke with Marlies correspondent Jeff Veillette about Brown's season.
PPP: So what does Brown do for an encore?
JV: He jumps from being one of the AHL's best rookies to one of it's best players. Now that he'll be playing with William Nylander full time, now that Kasperi Kapanen has joined the team, and now that the Marlies are generally that much better than they were last year, expectations are probably the highest they've ever been on Brown. The additional talent should be enough to turn Brown into a point-per-game player this year, given how close he was in his debut.
PPP: Is it safe to say that Brown is a player that the Maple Leafs will be monitoring to make that jump this season?
JV: No, but that's more of a praise of the Leafs organization than it is a knock on Brown. There's no need to rush him up to the big club unless a role for him is in place, and given his current situation, you'd want that role to be one in the top six. A combination of injuries and/or a fire sale might be enough to make that happen later in the year, but at that point, management would still likely prefer to have him be a part of a stretch run with the team he spent the bulk of the year with.
Another good season will absolutely make him a threat for next year's team, though.
PPP: Is there anything to Brown's game that you could see potentially holding him back?
JV: Nothing that will quite "hold him back", but adding a bit more of a physical presence, continuing to work on his acceleration, and adding some velocity to his shot could do him a world of good if he'd like to become one of the sport's top players. He's not particularly poor in any area, but the reality is that Brown has gone from a sleeper prospect to somebody firmly on our radar. The expectations for his talents are growing, and it's time to turn some of his good features into great ones.
Brown is the first member of our list that everybody virtually agreed upon, with very little variance and every single ranking placing him in their Top 10. This continues Brown's climb up our rankings over the last three years, going from not garnering any votes in his original post-draft ranking, to inside the top 10.
If he continues to climb the roster and rankings, keeps his scoring high, the 6th round pick from the worst team in his draft year could easily climb out of the AHL quickly and be a regular on the Maple Leafs.
I hope he picks number 72.