The battle of Ontario had a ceasefire on Canada Day, with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs making another multi-player trade. The centrepiece of the trade was swapping right-handed defencemen Cody Ceci and Nikita Zaitsev. However, Ottawa gained an underrated and valuable player in right-winger Connor Brown. At 25 years old, Brown joins a team in the opposite situation of the Leafs, but he is ready to embrace the opportunity with the rebuilding Senators.
“I’m excited to play for Smitty and the opportunity. It’s going to be fun there,”
from, ‘The Senators have put the pieces in place to get ready for September’ – Ottawa Sun – 07/02/19.
Opportunity in Ottawa’s Top-Six
Though Brown was a depth right winger for the Maple Leafs, he’ll have the opportunity to step into a top-six role with the Senators next season. In Toronto, Brown saw his average time on ice diminish from 16:12 in his rookie season, to 15:00 in his sophomore season. His average ice time dropped again last season to a career low of 13:48.
Related: Ryan’s role in Senators’ Rebuild
The correlation between Brown’s average ice time and his decrease in production is evident. He also went from being Auston Matthews’ winger in his rookie season to falling down the depth chart following the emergence of Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen. However, Brown still managed to put up almost 30 points in each of the last two seasons, even in his diminished role.
Brown doesn’t face the same dilemma with the Senators. His competition will be Drake Batherson and Bobby Ryan on the right side. Batherson will be vying for the top right wing spot, but that is far from locked up. Ryan is still a serviceable player, but far from the forward who put up multi 30-goal seasons with the Anaheim Ducks after a multitude of hand injuries. Brown, on the other hand, is a reliable player, having played all 82 games in each of the past three seasons. With DJ Smith, a former assistant coach in Toronto, Brown’s prior relationship with him should be a positive factor in the ice time he receives with the Senators.
Brown was a defensively sound player during his time with the Maple Leafs and head coach, Mike Babcock often utilized him in the defensive zone. His on-ice save percentage (oiSV%) at even strength, which calculates the save percentage of the goaltender while the player in question is on the ice, was the highest oiSV% on the Leafs at .944.
In the playoffs, Brown and his linemates finished with an even strength oiSV% of 100. This means that when Brown is on the ice at even strength, the other team is rarely scoring goals. Due to his defensive prowess, Babcock would often deploy Brown in the dying minutes of a game when the Leafs had the lead. As Babcock said of Brown,
“…the big thing for us is he is an elite penalty killer, elite without the puck, a drive train guy. He does it right every day. It’s hard to complain about Brownie if you’re the coach because he does so many thing,”
from, ‘With playoffs looming, Maple Leafs’ Connor Brown eager to improve offensive output‘ – Sporting News – 03/28/19.
Brown also had one of the best takeaway to giveaway ratios on the Leafs last season with 55% more takeaways than pucks turned over. He was seventh on the team in takeaways with 31, behind only the Leafs’ best roster players, Marner, Morgan Reilly, Matthews, John Tavares, Kapanen, and Nazem Kadri. Excluding players who played less than 30 games for the Leafs, Brown had the third least giveaways with 17.
Brown was also a key component of the Leafs’ penalty kill last season, averaging almost two minutes a game in shorthanded time on ice. Babcock consistently relied on Brown’s shut down capabilities against stronger opposition, which garnered praise from coaches and teammates. Brown’s junior coach, Kris Knoblauch was quoted as saying that Brown, “…would break up every single play.”
Matthews has also vouched for Brown, stating that he could play in any situation and did everything the right way.
“If someone stole the puck from him, he’d almost take it personal. We used to joke that on our five-on-three kill we didn’t have a system—we just had [Brown]” – Kris Knoblauch, coach of the Erie Otters during the majority of Brown’s time in the OHL.
‘Is this the real life? – Dan Robson, Sportsnet.
Most reports consider Brown a “sweetener” in the trade, but he is more than that for a rebuilding team like the Senators. He will be given a chance to shine with more minutes, more responsibility, and more offensive linemates. His defensive game should not be understated, as it will help mitigate the Senators’ defensive woes that were seen last season, while also supporting the PK. With his fresh start in Ottawa, Brown has been given the chance to flourish. Now it’ll be up to him to prove that he’s more than just the side piece of a larger trade.
All player and team stats taken from Hockey-Reference