Selected with the 156th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Connor Brown spent four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and never eclipsed 29 points in a season. He was traded during last offseason as part of the Cody Ceci trade to the Ottawa Senators and already, in just 70% of one season in Ottawa, he has 35 points. That means, in 70% of a season, he has 120% of his career high in points. Is it just a one year fluke or are we seeing Brown starting to trend in the right direction.
Digging into Connor’s season, he has been fairly consistent in terms of points: October (10), November (5), December (9), January (9) and February (2), there isn’t a one month spike even if his November showed some struggles. He is consistent in points home vs. away and his points are spread out evenly among opponents and divisional play. When Ottawa wins, Connor has 15 points and a +15, when they lose, a similar 13 points but he has a -19. To me the big difference has occurred in the amount of time he is utilized.
At the beginning of the season he had a respectable 18 minutes of time on ice. He’s steadily seen more ice time as of late, highlighted by more than 21 minutes of ice time in five of his last nine games. Over the last 30 days, Connor is averaging the 22nd most playing minutes in the NHL. We are talking Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin territory.
It’s not just scoring and minutes that has Brown putting together a strong season. He’s currently on Ottawa’s top line with Brady Tkachuk and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a line that, unlike other teams, is a grinder. The line collectively has 103 penalty infraction minutes (PIM), 363 hits and 110 blocked shots and 72 takeaways. It’s clear this is a line that thrives on aggressively forechecking, creating turnovers and fighting in the corners for pucks. This attitude has brought out the best in Brown who is on track to have a record year in PIM, hits, blocked shots and takeaways. Additionally, he is no stranger to steady progression, he saw his points with the OHL Erie Otters go from 53 to 69 to 128 over three years scoring 45 goals in his final year.
Brown is also improving his shot selection. He is moving away from his snap shot (which he used 24% of the time in Toronto) and he is now using his wrist shot much more (up from 51% of the time in Toronto to 73% of the time in Ottawa). While his goals from the wrist shot are scoring at the same 60% click (his most effective shot), is has in turn made his snapshot better as he is clearly using it more selectively and scoring at a 30% clip (up from 19% with Toronto). Shot selection is a key area of growth in his game corresponding with the forechecking and creating turnovers in the offensive zone.
Ottawa, who is content this year to sit in the Eastern Conference bottom tier with Detroit Red Wings, has found a niche as one of the bruiser team in the NHL. They rank 3rd in times shorthanded (behind Carolina and Washington), 4th in hits (behind Vegas, Montreal and NY Islanders), and 3rd in blocked shots. Connor has adapted to his spot along the top line in this system and it’s benefiting his points and helping him breakout.