Connor Brown had people split about whether he was a top prospect or just another kid from the OHL right from when he was drafted. Last season he made the Maple Leafs out of training camp and went on to score 20 goals for the team, an impressive year for a rookie overshadowed by the Maple Leafs dozen other rookies on the team.
Brown produced a season that saw him place 11th in rookie scoring with 20 goals and 16 assists in 82 games - tied in points with fellow Leafs rookie Nikita Zaitsev (4G, 32A) - that followed an impressive six points in seven games (1G, 5A) NHL debut last season.
So, why did Connor Brown fall in the rankings then?
Arvind ranked him 7th, lowest out of all his votes:
Connor Brown is a good NHL player. Of that, there is no doubt. However, I think that his level of play is lower than his scoring numbers would indicate. He shot 14.4% last year - we have no evidence that he can sustain that. He shoots from good areas of the ice, but so do many players (Zach Hyman is an example). Most don't end up shooting 14%. He played essentially all of his ice-time with either Nazem Kadri or Auston Matthews, meaning he was playing with either the best or second best Leafs forward at all times. When with Matthews, in particular, the line went on a bit of a PDO run. In fact, if you compare zone, score, and venue adjusted shot metrics for the lines Brown was on, they both perform worse than the equivalent line when he was replaced by William Nylander. There's no shame in being outperformed by Willie, but I think it shows that Brown wasn't really driving the bus on those lines. He was (and is) a solid complementary player who doesn't look out of place when placed high into the lineup. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think Carrick is more or less the same type of player, but on defense. And everyone else I ranked above him is a player who either has or may project to be a true difference maker at the NHL level.
Scott Wheeler also ranked him at #7:
Of last year's 'second-tier' rookies, I think Brown has the best chance of repeating his production (or even taking it a step further). While Zaitsev should continue to take on a top-4 role, his aging curve should limit any huge gains more than Brown's. I suspect Hyman plays a little lower in the lineup at some point because he's better suited for the fourth line (and benefited a great deal from his line mates) but really struggled to score down the stretch. Then you've got Carrick who, now that Hainsey is stepping into the top-4 and Dermott is knocking on the door, will have to compete for ice-time. Brown is a player who has the offensive tools to stick in the top-9 and should have a leg up on Leivo and Kapanen given the way he has already established himself. If he and Kadri remain as a pair, I don't think it's out of the question to see another 20 goals from Brown. That's exciting.
So, Connor Brown, solid complimentary player. Is he more than that? Could he be a consistent 20 goal scorer in the NHL?
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Brown has been a top 9 player everywhere he’s been, and is usually relied upon by his coaching staff to take heavy minutes. In Erie he was always on the top two lines, and with the Marlies he was also used in every role.
Justin Bourne at the Athletic talks about players like Brown in one of his articles about NHLers in the AHL:
“This is why you covet young players like Zach Hyman and Connor Brown, and pay to keep them around. This is why you need older veterans like Colin Greening, Rich Clune, Steve Oleksy and others. You need guys like that to eradicate the disease of “too cool to try” from team culture."
He’s a skilled shooter, a great skater, and a safe, reliable player (10 penalty minutes last season). Connor Brown is a player that could be in the Leafs’ future for a very long time. He’s not flashy, he’s not a showcase player. He’s constant, reliable, and...there. Connor Brown is what people mean when they say “lunch pail” player. He’s the kind of player that Bruce Springsteen would write a song about.
Like Gag Halfront said of Zaphod Beeblebrox, “He’s just this guy, you know?”