EDMONTON — We do this in hockey. Sometimes to our own peril.
It is never enough to simply describe a player’s attributes by themselves, whether that player is a prospective draft pick or Connor Brown, an eight-year NHL veteran with 448 games played.
Hockey people feel the need to attach a comparable, and in Brown’s case, the comparable is a guy who Edmonton Oilers — and Toronto Maple Leafs — fans know quite well.
“He plays the game very similar to Zach Hyman,” said Connor McDavid, Brown’s old junior teammate with the Erie Otters. “Just very tenacious, and a good guy in the room. Super competitive, wants to win at all costs … You can never have too many too many of those guys.”
Who does Brown remind Leon Draisaitl of?
“A big motor. He’s got a big motor to him. He seems like another Hyman-type player,” Draisaitl said.
So, with Connor (Hyman Lite) Brown finally landing in Edmonton as an unrestricted free agent, after several years of his name being thrown around as a prospective Oilers add, he was asked: Why Edmonton? Why now?
“I think it’s pretty obvious: it’s a great team,” Brown said on Thursday, fresh off the ‘Captain’s skate’ practice ice. “They’re competing, and they’ve been competing every year to try to get over the hump and try to win. And that’s what I want to do at this point in my career.”
The 29-year-old Brown, you are likely aware, blew out an ACL in Game 4 of last season, his last as a Washington Capital. He became a free agent in search of a situation that could revalue his brand. A place he could go on a one-year deal, and put up the kind of numbers that will earn him a four- or five-year deal next July 1.
Lo and behold, there was Oilers GM Ken Holland, who dangled the chance to play with either of his top centremen — Draisaitl or McDavid — and offering a league minimum $775,000 salary, with $3.25 million in bonuses (based on 10 games played) that will come off the Oilers’ 2024-25 salary cap as a bonus overage.
“I’m doing what you (media folks) have wanted me to do for about three years. I’m spending. Trying to win now,” said Holland, only half-joking back on July 1. “We’re trying to win. We’re adding a top forward at $775,000.”
This is the McDavid factor at work.
The same draw that made Evander Kane and Hyman choose Edmonton over multiple other options, and the factor that had Mattias Ekholm buying a house here rather than complaining about a trade that brought him to this Northern outpost from comfy Nashville.
Brown and McDavid were fuzzy-cheeked kids when they were united as linemates in Erie, and the result was a 45-goal, 128-point year in Brown’s final OHL season.
Can they get that kind of mojo back?
“Well, we’re still the same people,” said Brown, a right-shot right-winger. “It’s the NHL — it’s a long way from junior hockey. But we’ve both been around for, I think, nine seasons now. So you know, we know what to expect at this level.”
Brown smiled when we asked him how well he knew McDavid back then
“Growing up in the Toronto area, everybody had heard of him, the type of player he was. So when he came to Erie, it was … just fun for me,” he said. “I always say as an 18-19-year-old in the league — he was 15, 16 — I don’t think there’s anyone I learned more from and playing with, even when he was three years younger than me. His compete, the way he uses his speed, and the little things that he does within the game.”
Five Art Ross and three Hart Trophies later, Brown is here to tell you: he saw it all coming for McDavid. Even back then.
“Honestly, I did. I mean, not only was it the way he played, it was the way he conducted himself,” Brown said. “He gets better and better every year, and that’s why so many guys want to play with him and be around him.”
Under Holland, the Oilers have also gotten “better and better every year,” through the increments get smaller every summer.
Brown replaces the under-sized Kailer Yamamoto (who signed in Seattle) in the Oilers Top 6, and along with Hyman gives each of Draisaitl and McDavid that buzz-saw winger who can win battles, and dig pucks out for them to create with.
The question will be, how long until Brown’s ACL recovery allows him to be the player he is being touted as.
“We’re going to make sure that he feels comfortable, and that he gets the time that he needs to get up and rolling,” Draisaitl said. “We can’t expect him to come out of the gates flying — we’ve got to give him a little bit of time to find his game.
“But we are very excited to have him.”