With the 2015-16 NHL season almost here, teams are beginning to shape up their rosters. The Toronto Maple Leafs, a young team using this season to initiate many prospects, have a bit more to think about than other teams. The Leafs system is full of young players ready to make a case for a roster spot. There are so many that some of these players will probably be forced to spend the season in the AHL due to the amount of talent available. One of the players that the Leafs must make a decision on is Connor Brown.
Connor Brown was drafted 156th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Chosen as one of Toronto’s 6th round choices, he was immediately dismissed as just another prospect, scoring 53 points in 68 games for the Erie Otters in the 2011-12 OHL season.
Fast forward two seasons later, and the kid explodes onto the scene. Tallying 45 goals and 83 assists in 68 games, Brown made a significant statement in the league by capturing the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the top scorer in the OHL, the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player, as well as first all-star team honours. The once overshadowed 18-year-old had now begun to turn the heads of many scouts and teams, especially the Maple Leafs.
The 2014-15 season saw Brown’s jump to the AHL for the Toronto Marlies, and yet again, he was able to make a statement. Putting up 61 points in 76 games, Brown was an AHL All-Star and won the league’s rookie scoring title.
The rising young gun showed promise as an NHL player, but he still was unable to make the Leaf’s roster for the 2015-16 season. Regardless, last season saw an injury-plagued Brown still put up a rather impressive 29 points in 34 games given the circumstances, including a brief call-up stint with the Leafs which saw him score six points in seven games. Numbers like these show signs of NHL readiness.
With a pair AHL seasons under his belt, it seems as though Brown is as ready as ever to undergo his NHL rookie season.
Lineup Log Jam
Unfortunately for Brown, many Leafs prospects join him in the long line of players fighting for a roster spot. Prospects like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov and Nikita Zaitsev are all pretty much locks to play in their rookie season this year. Others, however, like Kasperi Kapanen, Jeremy Bracco, Josh Leivo, and Brendan Leipsic, all fall into a category of “nearly good enough to make the NHL, but not as much as some of the other guys.” Connor Brown falls into this category of bridge players, however, his case differs slightly. It is fair to place him at the top of the list of this group of players and to say that he is an NHL ready forward who can easily fill a top 9 spot. He is just waiting for his time to break out in the NHL.
That time, however, may not be this season. With the amount of solidified players already on the team, and prospects like Matthews, Marner, and Nylander needing spots as well, the lineup might already be full. Looking at the Leafs’ wingers heading into the season, the list includes:
It is quite hard to see where Brown would fit into all of this when looking at this list of players. Although Lupul’s playing time may be limited due to injury, with the permanent additions of Martin, Marner, Nylander, and Soshnikov to the roster this year there just does not seem to be much wiggle room.
The Leafs have so many NHL ready players this season that they don’t know what to do with them. Unfortunately for Brown, he is right at the forefront of this positive problem for the team. It is very likely that he will not be seeing much playing time in the NHL this year, and he should probably start to unpack all that Marlies gear for the season.
A possible scenario that could potentially happen would include Brown being called up multiple times throughout the season. He and Leivo are the two forerunners in the call-up race if anyone on the Leafs squad is out. This season’s expectations are quite low for the club, and with a risk-taking mentality, the team will be sure to take advantage of it by trying to give as many players as much developmental experience as needed. With that said, it is easy to see Brown getting a good amount of games in this season, especially after his very brief first stint last season.
If the Leafs management group happen to take notice of this lineup jam, they may also consider unloading a few players for more prospects or picks, a very likely move for a rebuilding team. If this happens to be the case, it would perhaps open up a well-awaited spot for Brown, who is certainly next in line to play in the NHL.
Training camp and pre-season are just around the corner, and the Leafs have some decisions to make. Until then, Leafs fans will have to sit back and enjoy it as it happens. Who knows, maybe Brown will impress a few this time around?
Let me know in the comments where you think Connor Brown fits into the Leafs system this year.