Erie Otters forward Connor Brown was awarded with the Red Tilson Trophy, given to the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player. Brown has never been considered an elite prospect in the Leafs organization or in hockey circles, so who exactly is this guy who led the OHL in scoring this season?
Name: Connor Brown
Position: Right Wing
Height: 5-foot-11 Weight: 170 lb.
Brown is the only Leafs second draft pick (the other being Brad Boyes) to win the Red Tilson Trophy since the turn of the century. Other prominent Leafs who have won the award include Doug Gilmour (not drafted by Toronto), George Armstrong and Frank Mahovlich.
It didn’t take Brown long to figure out how to score consistently after Erie picked him in the 13th round (251st overall) of OHL draft. In his first season (2011-12), the 17-year-old was named to the league’s all-rookie team after leading the 10-52-6 Otters in goals (25) and points (53)—to go along with a minus-72 rating (that’s not a typo)—in 68 games. Thanks to size issues (he was about 140 lb. at the time), Brown was 110th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Despite his horrific plus-minus rating (as much a reflection of a poor team as anything) and slight stature, the Leafs still drafted Brown in the sixth round (156th overall) in 2012. He continued to produce the following season, leading the bottom-feeding Otters in scoring again. Erie saw enough out of the 18-year-old to name him captain before he went on to score 28 goals and 41 assists while limiting his plus-minus to a minus-11.
Before his third season (2013-14) with the Otters, Brown added muscle and spent significant time over the summer working with Leafs power-skating coach Barb Underhill. The team saw immediate dividends. Playing alongside future NHL top pick Connor McDavid and Dane Fox, Brown developed into one of the league's top playmaking wingers. He led the OHL in scoring with a a career-best 45 goals and 128 points while helping Erie set franchise marks for wins (52) and points (106). “I had some people tell me what a great draft pick he was,” said Erie GM Sherry Bassin earlier this year. “Well, if he ended up being this good, then why’d we wait until the 13th round to take him?”
The Leafs liked what they saw in Brown’s development and signed him to a three-year entry level in November. It's expected the Leafs will give him a shot at a full-time role with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies next year. "You feel like he is the kind of kid who is going to do everything necessary to give himself a chance because of the way he has conducted himself the last few years in junior," Leafs executive Dave Morrison told the Toronto Sun. “He has been a leader and has stuck to his guns with everything he has done. He has believed in himself and in his team. It's a credit to him, and it bodes well for his professional career."
Does OHL success equal NHL success?
Even after his monster year in Erie, there are still concerns about whether Brown is a legitimate prospect. He has displayed high-end scoring ability, but his lack of size and overall strength could be problematic at the next level. He must be in a top-six role to excel. Overall, Brown has taken giant steps every year he’s been in junior and is a player Toronto fans should follow closely as he progresses through the system. So we figured we’d look at the history of OHL scoring leaders and Red Tilson winners since the turn of the century and see how they’ve fared at the NHL level.
Simply put, there have been mixed results. After Wellwood led the league in points in 2000-01, some of the most prominent OHL scoring leaders included Tyler Seguin (2009-10), John Tavares (2008-09), Patrick Kane (2006-07) and Corey Perry (2004-05). On the flip side, Nathan Robinson, Corey Locke (two-time scoring leader), Rob Schremp (too small) and Justin Azevedo were unable to turn their OHL successes into NHL careers. Other notables who finished in the top five in scoring include Tyler Toffoli, Taylor Hall, Nazem Kadri, Luca Caputi, Steven Stamkos, Dave Bolland, Wojtek Wolski, Jason Spezza and Kris Newbury.
There results for winners of the Red Tilson Trophy have been just as mixed. Recent winners include Vincent Trocheck, Michael Houser, Ryan Ellis, Seguin, Azevdeo, Tavares, Cody Hodgson, Wolski, Perry, Locke, Boyes and Andrew Raycroft. Leafs fans surely remember Raycroft.