When looking at a list of Leafs prospects to get excited about, it's tough to not circle Connor Brown
The story at this point is well known. Brown was selected in the 13th round of the OHL Priority Draft in 2010 by the Erie Otters after 250 players were taken before him. Following his first season in Erie he was selected in the sixth round by the Maple Leafs in the NHL Draft after 155 players were taken before him.
Being passed over usually leaves others crestfallen, but those dismissals embiggened the chip on Brown’s shoulder.
Each obstacle has presented adversity and he has risen to meet the challenges placed before him. He captained the Otters from 2012-14 and led the OHL in scoring in 2013-14.
Many expected Brown to take a step back in 2014-15, his first season as a professional hockey player. Once again he rose to the challenge. He led the Toronto Marlies in scoring, earned a selection to the AHL All-Star Game and won the AHL's rookie scoring title.
Brown has produced at every level he has played and, beyond that, has grown other facets of his game to match the level of play. While his skill level has been rightly praised, it's his work ethic and willingness to develop his total game that has set him apart. You'll often hear coaches lament the habit of young players to only work on the things they're already good at. That's not an issue with Brown.
"He has such an inner drive to excel," said Marlies head coach Gord Dineen before the playoffs. "He's a guy that has proven people wrong, he's probably proven me wrong on an expectation basis. I didn't expect him to have the season he's had. He's a guy that every day of his life he's had to prove himself and he's doing it now, he hasn't reached his final goal. When he does get to the NHL he's going to be the same way."
The 2014-15 season was a learning experience for Brown as it is with any young player making the jump to pro hockey. It was a year filled with positives, but there is still plenty of room to grow.
"I think it was a good year, a successful year. Coming from where we were to where we ended up, that Grand Rapids team played pretty well," said Brown. "We played well too but it's two good teams and a good series. It was a tough way to lose but a lot of positive to take out of it."
"As the year went on I created a bit more time and space for myself. I was extending my possessions. I think I've got a ways to go come September and I'm just looking forward to the offseason now."
Many fans are itching to see Brown don the Maple Leafs sweater as soon as possible but the plan for development calls for patience. When he's ready, he's ready. Rushing a player does an organization no good in the future if it means they never reach their full potential.
"Our philosophy is not going to change as much as anybody wants it to or as much as people want to call for these players to be brought up," said Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas. "We'll call them up when they're ready to be NHLers all the time. Full-time without any doubt that they're going to be with the Leafs and stay with the Leafs the rest of their career."
That patience is visible in many of the organizations left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Give a player the resources to succeed, give them an opportunity to grow and bring them into the limelight when they're ready.
"You've got to trust the process. They're trying to build a winning culture here and that's one way to do it," said Brown. "You've got to trust it and keep your nose to the work and keep going."
When Connor Brown's name is called by the NHL, you can expect him to be ready as he always has been. He has worked to pass the people once taken before him. He has already left many wishing they had a mulligan on that draft floor.
With 76 games of pro hockey under his belt and an eye fixed on Air Canada Centre, the work has just begun.