New acquisition Connor Brown provides Oilers with much-needed intangibles at low cost

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss the Edmonton Oilers adding Connor Brown through free agency, looking at the influence McDavid had in the deal, the prove it factor for Brown on a one-year contract & if the Oilers will make any other additions.

EDMONTON — Phase 1 of operation “Get This Thing Over The Top” began on July 1, with a player who has been rumoured as an Edmonton Oiler for likely two or three years. 

In comes right-winger Connor Brown, and a pair of depth forwards in Lane Pederson and Drake Caggiula, as the Oilers backfill a roster that has lost Kailer Yamamoto, Klim Kostin and Nick Bjugstad since last they dropped a puck. 

Are they better?

They’d better be… 

“I’m doing what you (media folks) have wanted me to do for about 3 years. I’m spending. Trying to win now,” said Ken Holland, only half-joking. “We’re trying to win. We’re adding a top forward at $775,000.” 

Yes, Brown is earning the league minimum — with $3.25 million in bonuses (based on games played) that will come off of the 2024-25 cap if earned. 

“You’ll have to pay the price somewhere,” Holland reasoned, who wisely saves this year’s cap space to settle up with free agents Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. 

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Holland would still like to sign a fourth-line centre, but he’ll have to wait to see how much money he has left after the two aforementioned signings, which take priority. 

So, who is Connor Brown? 

First off, the 29-year-old blew out his ACL after four games in Washington last year, and has been rehab-ing ever since. Of course, his agent Jeff Jackson assures Holland that Brown is healthy and ready to go, and we have no reason to doubt that. 

But, just in case, Holland has even a better source: 

Brown’s junior teammate, Connor McDavid. Who also happens to be Jackson’s primary client. 

“I don’t know Connor Brown, but I do know Connor McDavid. And Connor McDavid knows Connor Brown,” said Holland. “(McDavid) says Brown is skating, pushing hard, feels good… Two-and-a-half months before training camp, everything looks good, I believe he’s going to have a real positive impact on our team.” 

Brown slots into the spot held down by Yamamoto for the past three seasons, bringing similar, slightly better production to the position, but with completely different intangibles. 

Yamamoto gave it everything he had physically, but at five-foot-eight and 155 lbs., the heavier, more grinding playoff game left Yamamoto in its dust, to an extent. Brown is bigger at six-foot, 181 lbs, and can play a much heavier game with similar or better stats. 

An excellent penalty killer, Brown will make the Oilers better defensively — priority No. 1 in Edmonton — while providing a right winger for one of two elite centremen with better (and different) finishing skills than Yamamoto had. They call him “Hyman Lite” because he scores from the hard areas, is dogged on pucks, and keeps the cycle alive more times than not. 

Brown brings the fight to the opponent, and engages teammates. He was loved by fans, teammates and head coach Mike Babcock in Toronto, where he played with Hyman. 

For Edmonton, a notoriously high-skilled team that always wants for more blue-collar attributes, he’s one more guy who will stick his nose into the playoff scuffle. However, he’s coming off of a major injury. 

“My expectation is that it will take a little while to get going. People will have to be patient,” Holland said. “I’m hoping that once he gets up and running, he’ll have a real impact on our team. But I would think it might take a little time.” 

Brown’s role will be in concert with Raphael Lavoie, where the six-foot-four rookie will be given a chance to become an everyday NHLer at age 22. If he and Brown are Edmonton’s Middle 6 wingers — with Hyman above and Derek Ryan holding down the 4th line — that’s a right side you can live with, at least until the trading deadline. 

All that’s left now for Holland is a No. 4 centreman, depending on the market. As we’ve reported, Holland will go into the season with his defence status quo, conducting any alterations at the trade deadline. 

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