Our third installment in the new Year in Review feature brings us to this season’s breakout star: Connor Brown.
Here are the prior entries in the series:
By the numbers:
In his second year with the Ottawa Senators, Brown reached new levels of offensive productivity and even set some records along the way. Brown posted a career-high 21 goals in just 56 games; a 31 goal pace over a full 82 game season. His 35 points pro-rates to 51 over 82 games, which would have also been a career high. As you may have heard, Brown set the Sens’ record for most consecutive games with at least one goal when he tallied in eight consecutive games. He also led the NHL with an impressive five short-handed tallies. So from a goal-scoring perspective, the 2021 campaign was a breakout season for Brown but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the winger scored on 17.1% of his shots compared to a career rate of 12.3%. Whether that was a sign of a player getting a bit lucky or a guy figuring out how to maximize his talents in a new role is at least in part in the eye of the beholder.
The Sens achieved decent, if less spectacular overall results when he was on the ice; Brown posted a 50.46 CF% and a 46.53 xGF%. Here’s how Micah McCurdy’s model at hockeyviz assessed Brown:
At 5v5, Brown was a slight negative on offense, and a bit more of a positive on defense. While the contrast between Brown’s impressive personal numbers and the team’s overall offensive output when he’s on the ice has been the source of some debate in Sens’ fandom this year, his positive defensive impact is one area upon virtually everyone agrees.
The last thing worth noting is just how much Brown played this past season: his 18:14 a game led the team among forwards for a second consecutive year. His most common line-mate was Chris Tierney, but Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris were second and third on the list. He played a lot, and he played with almost everyone. Here’s a visual representation of what that looks like:
Story of the season:
Much has already been written about Brown breaking out since his arrival in Ottawa, including this piece from Shaan earlier this month on our very site, but it bears repeating that when the Sens acquired him two summers ago virtually no one expected him to score at this rate. It’s also worth remembering that for much of even this past season, Brown was struggling quite badly: he didn’t net a goal in any of the team’s first ten games, and he was sitting on six goals and nine assists for fifteen points at the 35 game mark. But much as the whole team came alive late in the year, Brown exploded for 15 goals and 5 assists in the last 21 games. That torrid stretch earned him a place with Team Canada at the World Championships where he was a key contributor to the Canadian team’s dramatic gold medal triumph.
Brown was also DJ Smith’s most trusted forward, tasked with playing against the opposition’s top line at 5v5, heavy minutes on the penalty kill, and was a virtual lock to be on the ice at the end of any game where the Sens were protecting a lead. At a personal level, it’s hard to think of a more successful season for the veteran leader despite some early adversity.
Brown has two more years left at $3.6M AAV on the extension he signed last summer; when that deal expires, he will be a UFA. Given his importance to the team I expect we’ll see Brown play out the rest of the contract in Ottawa, but what happens beyond that is anybody’s guess.
As much as the Sens have benefitted from his presence in their line-up, Brown has also benefitted from the opportunity afforded to him: the point totals and the gaudy minutes played would likely never have been possible on a deeper team, and there remains something of a question of just where Brown should slot on a play-off contender. For all of his personal scoring accolades, the Sens were still slightly worse off offensively when he was on the ice and it’s hard to envision a top six winger on a good team that’s a negative offensively. In my perfect world, he’s the anchor of a ferocious third line but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Brown to wonder if his new goal-scoring touch wouldn’t buy him a more prestigious role. Owing in part to Evgenii Dadonov’s slump last year, Smith was never really faced with the question of where to slot Brown but if Drake Batherson continues to grow and Dadonov has a return to form, then Brown might just be relegated to that aforementioned third line role; if that happens, it will likely mean the Sens are in a much better place than they were last year — and that’s something we can all hope for.