Oilers’ Connor Brown confident he can flip the switch on goalless season

New York Rangers' Ryan Lindgren (55) and Edmonton Oilers' Connor Brown (28) battle for the puck during second period NHL action in Edmonton, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — If there is one person left in Edmonton who has faith that Connor Brown can turn this disaster of a season around, well, at least it’s someone he trusts.

“I have far from given up hope because I know I’ve got it in me,” Brown declared on Wednesday, as the page turned from 44 games without a goal to 45, after a four-shot, no-goals night against Boston.

“I’ve had six seasons of playing hockey in this league, three of them on pace for 20 (goals) and one of them on pace for 30. I know I can score. I just really believe …  things can change in the flip of the switch. That’s what my experience tells me.”

There is exactly one player in the entire National Hockey League this season with 76 shots on goal and zero goals. A shooting percentage of 0.0.

Brown sees that player in the mirror every morning.

“There’s a massive element of bad luck going on,” he said of the several goalposts and close calls around the net.

Brown looks at that guy, with the smartly trimmed red beard and the four lousy assists this season, and he reminds himself he’s looking at a two-time 20-goal scorer. He sees, as Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland did when he signed him to that rueful $4-million contract last summer, a guy who has always been a lock for 15 goals — and maybe more if he could only have held on to that spot next to one of the centremen that he was brought here to flank.

Brown, 30, knows it’s still in there somewhere. Even if whatever that is still hasn’t arrived with the rest of his belongings last fall.

“I’ve been a goal scorer at every level — including this level — for many years,” Brown said. “And I’m still the same player. Still got the same skill set. I know that things can change at the drop of a hat. So, with a little bit of confidence and making plays, I’m just going to keep playing.”

And the Oilers will keep paying, in the form of $3.225 million in bonuses next season, a salary-cap hack that allowed Holland to fit the free agent in under this year’s cap, but pay for down the road.

It’s a lesson for us all, really, on how much to expect from a player who has suffered a serious injury.

Brown snapped his ACL four games into last season, had all year to rehab, skated hard all summer … and, still, he hasn’t come close to regaining his form. He’s been a useful penalty killer, but his hands?

Somehow, they were lost in transit.

Sam Gagner had his jaw busted one training camp. He came back in December and struggled all season long.

“I had a really difficult year,” Gagner recalled. “No. 1, it’s trying to get over the injury. Questioning, ‘Did I come back too soon?’ You’re thinking about it a lot during the game, which leads to you not playing as well, and then it affects your confidence …

“It’s gonna break for him here at some point.”

The rest of the team has had a front-row seat to watch a guy whose career is at stake. A six-year NHLer who is going to have to go back to a minimum salary and prove his worth all over again next season — or perhaps even try out somewhere on a PTO.

Everyone knows it could be them. A blown-out knee, a long rehab, and then you get back and you’re just not the same player that you were before.

“I know Brownie is a guy who cares a ton, he works really hard, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. He wants to be a difference-maker for us. That’s what you want out of your teammates,” Gagner said. “He’s going to find a way out of this.”

“Of course, I’ve been tested this year,” Brown said. “I was tested with a big injury, and with coming back and playing immediately in the spotlight. You know, coming back from missing a full year directly on the best player in the league’s line, it’s obviously been a huge test, and I’ll be stronger for it.

“I’m sure that there’s some people who have counted me out, but I would not do that to myself. I know that I have the game in me and that there’s still got lots of games left here and a big stretch run and into the playoffs.”

Ah, the playoffs.

Brown was brought here for these stretch-run games and what Holland hopes will be a long playoff run. But there’s one problem.

Today, if the Oilers GM needs to move out one minimum salary at forward to make a trade happen — and almost certainly does — there’s a pretty good chance that contract is Brown’s.

The guy who was acquired for the playoffs — who they told us was Zach Hyman lite — may well become the guy used to upgrade himself.

“I think it would be a mistake if that happened,” Brown said. “I think that I’ve got my best hockey ahead of me.”

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