Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Connor Brown

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TORONTO, ON - APRIL 17: Connor Brown #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates away from T.J. Oshie #77 of the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 17, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Connor Brown was a sixth round pick. Read that sentence again. Drink it in. Isn’t it beautiful? How many teams get a twenty goal season from a player they selected in the sixth round? Now, how many of those players do that in their rookie season? The answer is few.

Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Connor Brown

It’s easy to forget, but Brown’s start to the 2016-17 season was a distinctly rocky one. With only two points in his first fifteen games, he often looked timid on the ice. As is the norm with most rookies, it seemed as if every time the puck landed on his stick, he tried to make the perfect play with it. This was evident in his infamous botching of a clearing attempt at his own blue line during the first round of the playoffs.

Analytically Speaking

Delving into Brown’s advanced stats paints a promising picture of his rookie season. According to DataRink, Brown finished the year as a positive possession player at even strength, posting a 50.05 CF%. His possession would likely be higher in different circumstances, as Brown was primarily placed on a line which was matched up against opponent’s top offensive threats. Chipping in twenty goals while playing on a playoff team’s shutdown line is an impressive feat, even more so for a rookie.

His score adjusted CF/60 at even strength was 60.2%, ranking him among the top ninety forwards in the NHL. Brown accomplished this while playing roughly sixteen minutes a game, slightly below the average for a top six NHL forward. Essentially, Brown performed, in select areas, like a top six forward while playing bottom six minutes.

Even Strength

It is also worth noting that Brown produced the majority of his offence at even strength. Fourteen of his twenty goals came when both teams had five skaters on the ice. Furthermore, seven of his 11 even strength assists were primary. In total, 25 of Brown’s 37 total points were scored at even strength. That is quite an impressive number, rookie or not. Being able to produce effectively at five on five is a positive sign for Brown’s development, as it shows that his production is not propped up by the offensive advantages awarded by a power play.

Building Blocks

The central caveat to keep in mind when reviewing Brown’s season is that it only represents the baseline of his value. At just 23 years old, he has plenty of room to continue to grow in his development. If last season was any indication, Brown has developed a phenomenal base of production to build upon. He produced, in most areas, at the level of a top six NHL forward, and with a full season under his belt, it is firmly expected of him to improve upon those benchmarks.

Profile (via EliteProspects)

Age: 23

Position: RW

Height: 6’0

Weight: 185 lbs

NHL Entry Draft: Sixth Round, 156th Overall in 2012 by the Toronto Maple Leafs

Contract (via CapFriendly)

Connor Brown, as of August 6, remains an unsigned restricted free agent. Now, if the NHL were a league that didn’t operate as if it were a front for old rich guys to hang out together, Leafs fans would have reason to be worried that another team would potentially extend him an offer sheet. Luckily, an offer sheet would make those monthly GM yacht auctions, or whatever it is that rich people do, super awkward. So that’s not going to happen.

Zach Hyman recently inked a four-year deal worth $2.25 million per season. With that said, it is reasonable to project Brown signing a contract worth slightly more than Hyman’s was. As the Leafs utilized the mysterious “off-season LTIR”, they currently possess $3,929,167 in remaining cap space. An offer of four years and north of $3 million AAV for Brown will most likely be the outcome.

Everyone needs to chill out. Connor Brown will get signed, and soon fans will transition into debating about what number he’ll wear now that Patrick Marleau stole his old one. Brown has sported many different numbers in the Leafs organization, from development camp to the NHL, including 12, 16, 28, 29, 61, and 78.

2017/18 Season

To take the next step, Brown needs to develop the individual ability to drive possession, as well as add another gear to his already above-average speed. If he accomplishes that, he has all the tools to become a lineup mainstay for the foreseeable future.

This is a crucial summer for Brown. Not only does he need a new contract, but he has to continue to earn the right to maintain a spot in a deep lineup. With a plethora of wingers in the Leafs system nipping at his heels, that won’t be easy. Connor Brown’s 2016-17 season was undoubtedly a success, yet it only showed a glimpse of the true value he has the ability to bring.

Once Brown is finally signed to a new contract, he is expected to be slotted on the Leafs shut down line again, playing alongside Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov. Brown’s ability to inhabit a checking role, while simultaneously possessing a nose for the net, makes him an increasingly useful and valuable forward for Toronto.

It is worth noting that the Leafs were blessed on the injury front last season. If they regress back to the mean, they could potentially lose a forward for an extended period of time. In that case, Brown can comfortably slot into their top six. If Brown continues to produce at a top six rate, while playing a bottom six role, the Leafs will be playing with house money. And remember, he was a sixth round pick.

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