TORONTO — The parade of Toronto Maple Leafs playing their first NHL game continues.
Connor Brown will make his NHL debut when Toronto hosts the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. He’ll become the 10th Maple Leaf to do so this season.
Brown will play alongside veterans Milan Michalek and Ben Smith. He was recalled from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on an emergency basis with veteran forward Leo Komarov ailing,.
The Toronto native was selected in the sixth round (156th overall) of the 2012 NHL draft by the Leafs. Brown impressed at the NHL squad’s training camp, earning strong reviews from head coach Mike Babcock.
“He was our best kid in training camp for sure, could’ve made our team,” Babcock said prior to Thursday’s game.
The AHL’s most productive rookie last season with 61 points in 76 games, Brown broke his ankle in the fall. The 22-year-old has 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 28 games, having accumulated eight points in a three-game stretch earlier this month.
“I felt like I was pretty close as to the way I was playing in the American League, battling back from injury,” said Brown. “I felt like I was getting better and better.
“It’s really nice to be recognized, extremely excited to be here.”
Brown joins Byron Froese, William Nylander, Brendan Leipsic, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Viktor Loov, Garret Sparks, Rinat Valiev, and Nikita Soshnikov as players to make their NHL debuts for Toronto this season.
All but Froese and Sparks played their first games after the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Brown was not among the round of call-ups Toronto made in the initial aftermath of the deadline, which saw a number of Leaf veterans dealt. But his work ethic and solid play drew praise from Babcock.
Not blessed with terrific size when drafted by the Leafs, Brown has filled out somewhat since. Babcock says Brown’s “elite hockey sense,” and strong offensive instincts combined to land him in the NHL where size matters less than in years past.
“He’s going to be a good NHL player for a long period of time,” Babcock said.
If mildly disappointed in not getting an opportunity sooner, Brown said he also understood the team’s plan for him.
He replaces Komarov, who was injured in Toronto’s 4-1 win over Tampa on Tuesday night. The 29-year-old Komarov is expected to return Saturday when the Leafs host Buffalo.
“I’m just super thrilled in the moment and super thrilled to be here,” Brown said.