Elliotte Friedman talks Connor Brown debut, Leafs prospects

Connor Brown and William Nylander discuss how seeing so many familiar faces makes the transition to the big club easier, and coach Babcock admires Brown’s skills and respect for the game.

Elliotte Friedman had been looking forward to watching Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Connor Brown play for a while now.

The 22-year-old winger, who was called up by the Leafs on an emergency basis, made his NHL debut Thursday night in Toronto’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers and didn’t disappoint.

Friedman, speaking on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Dean Blundell & Co. Friday morning, said he was impressed with Brown’s play.

“Obviously he didn’t get a point last night or his first NHL goal, but what he did do was he was out there, he was competitive, he was hard on guys,” said Friedman. “There was a shift against Jagr, he didn’t look intimidated.”

Listen: Full interview with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

Brown played 19 shifts (15:40) against the Panthers, failed to record a shot on net and was a minus-two rating.

The Toronto native and junior standout with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters had nine goals and 15 assists in 28 games for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, prior to being called up. Brown missed time earlier in the season with an ankle injury.

Brown’s success with Erie, where he had 128 points during the 2013-14 season, prompted the Leafs to draft him in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL draft.

Friedman’s interest in Brown drew from the fact that critics didn’t believe Brown could convert his video game numbers in junior to the NHL.

“I had a chance to talk to (former Toronto GM) Dave Nonis and I said, you know, ’Is this guy going to play?’ and he said, ‘He’s going to play but it’s going to take him three years.’

“And then late last year, before he was let go, I asked Nonis again, ‘Has Connor Brown sped up the timeline or anything?’ And he said, ‘He absolutely has and he will play games next year.’ And he said, ‘When we drafted him, I never could have imagined it would be this quick, but he is going to play next year.’”

Brown’s potential, along with the Maple Leafs’ prospect depth, which includes skilled players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and last year’s first-round draft pick Mitchell Marner has Friedman thinking about Toronto’s best-case scenario, roster-wise.

“I’m just wondering how many of these guys can play on a team like this at once at this day and age in the NHL. And I’m very curious to find out the answer,” said Friedman.

“Brown, Nylander, Kapanen looked not bad, you’re hoping Marner can add to the list. How many of these guys, who maybe aren’t the biggest guys, can you play with, and win with, in the league.”

The Leafs (24-35-11) are in last place in the NHL. They have 12 selections at June’s draft in Buffalo, N.Y., including the chance at the No. 1 overall pick.