Thursday, September 08, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Connor Brown

Connor Brown

“I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.”
-- J. B. Priestley

When the annual entry draft gets down to its later rounds, you might find a team selecting a hometown player.  This is not to say such a selection is done for public relations purposes.  In fact, it is a feel-good sort of action, but we are also talking about the best amateur players on the planet being taken among the 200-plus selections.  Even lower-round selections are skilled players.  One such case was in the 2012 Entry Draft when Connor Brown, a native of Toronto, was taken in the sixth round (156th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brown was no stiff filling a role as hometown boy makes good with local team. When the Leafs selected him, Brown was coming off a year with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League in which he posted 25 goals and 53 points.  And he did it for a positively ghastly team that went 10-52-6.  It probably explains his minus-72 rating that season (no, that is not a misprint…minus-72; he had only eight games with a plus rating in 68 games played).

As Brown moved forward after being selected by the Maple Leafs, it seemed he took his modest draft status personally and used it as incentive.  His numbers improved dramatically with Erie over the next two seasons – 28-41-69, minus-11, in 63 games in 2012-2013, and 45-83-128, plus-44, in 68 games plus an 8-10-18 scoring line in 14 postseason games.  Upon moving up to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, he was 32-58-90, plus-34, over 110 games over two seasons, and he was 8-5-13 in 20 postseason games with the Marlies.  Brown was a player who certainly outperformed his draft position in the apprenticeship phase of his career.

Odd Brown Fact… Brown has been uncommonly responsible with the puck in his career to date.  In four seasons with the Maple Leafs he had 120 takeaways and 68 giveaways (takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 1.76:1).  In three seasons with Ottawa he had 159 takeaways and 119 giveaways (1.34:1).

Fearless’ Take… Although Brown is not producing numbers at quite the pace as an NHLer as he did in juniors or the AHL, he has been a productive middle-six forward.  In each of the last three seasons (all with Ottawa) he averaged more than 0.60 points per game.  Last season, six Caps forwards dressing for at least 25 games averaged at least 0.60 points per game (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom, Anthony Mantha, and Conor Sheary).  He averaged 0.25 goals per game over the last three seasons, matching T.J. Oshie’s average last year and topped by only four forwards on last year’s Caps team (Ovechkin, Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Sheary; minimum: 25 games).  Only four Caps forwards from last season (25 games or more) averaged more assists per game than what Brown averaged over the last three seasons (0.37) – Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Mantha.  The 11.3 percent shooting he posted over the last three seasons would have put him squarely in the middle of the pack of Caps forwards last season who appeared in 25 or more game, ranking tied for sixth of 15 forwards.

Cheerless’ Take…

His shooting percentages on a year-to-year basis have been all over the rink.  In his six full seasons in the NHL; 14.4, 11.8, 9.4, 9.2, 17.1, and 8.3 last year.  And it was not as if his presence on the ice led to greater success for the Ottawa Senators last season.  The Senators were a rebuilding team and expected to struggle, but they were 10-17-4 in 31 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes, 15-17-1 in 33 games in which skated less than 20 minutes.  Ottawa was not particularly successful when Brown was offensively engaged, at least by one measure.  They were 6-13-0 when he recorded at least three shots on goal; they were 3-5-2 in ten games in which he recorded no shots on goal.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 500 career games played (he has 444)
  • 100 career goals (90)
  • 100 career penalty minutes (90)

The Big Question…  Can Connor Brown hold the fort and fill Tom Wilson’s role, at least in terms of offensive production, until Wilson returns?

It is unlikely that Tom Wilson will return to the Caps’ lineup after knee surgery and rehabilitation until December That would mean he would miss the first 30 or so games.  Connor Brown, also a right winger, would be expected to slide into Wilson’s roster spot, but he does so as a very different kind of player.  He is not nearly the physical player Wilson is.  For example, he has 184 career credited hits; Wilson has eight seasons with more.  Brown has 90 career penalty minutes; Wilson has never had fewer than 93 minutes in any of his nine seasons. 

Two areas in which Brown might be a suitable fill-in for Wilson are in offensive production and in penalty killing.  In Brown’s six full NHL seasons, he is 89-121-210 and 19 power play goals in 437 games, averaging 16:59 in ice time per game.  Wilson is 101-122-221 and 15 power play goals in 416 games, averaging 16:38 in ice time per game.  There is also penalty killing.  Brown averaged 2:42 in shorthanded ice time per game over his six full seasons in the NHL to date, while Wilson averaged 1:53 per game.  Brown will not bring an air of menace to the ice, but he can be productive in the areas the Caps will need replacement-level numbers in Wilson’s absence.

In the end…

Connor Brown’s career to date, since the day he was drafted, seems to be one long exercise in making the scouts who evaluated him for draft purposes look silly.  He has vastly outperformed his draft position, and none of the 55 players taken after him in the 2012 draft have played in more games.  His 90 goals is a large chunk of the total number of goals scored by all players taken after him who have played in the NHL (120 goals among 21 players).  His 216 points are almost 100 points more than the next player’s total among those taken after him (Vinnie Hinostroza with 137).  He also has the incentive of this being the last year of his current contract ($3.6 million cap hit).  If he is this player with the Caps, and properly incentivized, the team might be able to survive, perhaps even thrive, until Tom Wilson returns and could be a very formidable team when Wilson and Brown are on the ice together.  And that would be quite a bit of magic that Caps fans, not to mention their new addition, would welcome.

Projection: 76 games, 18-22-40, plus-4

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