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Brown displays leadership at Maple Leafs camp

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO -- One of the more intriguing players at Toronto Maple Leafs development camp was forward Connor Brown.

At 20 years old, he was one of the veterans and arrived after a career year with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.

Brown led the OHL in scoring with 128 points and won the league MVP award. His 83 assists were first in the league and his 45 goals were tied for fourth. Though he played alongside a handful of other prolific scorers, including 2015 NHL Draft top prospect Connor McDavid and Washington Capitals 2013 first-round pick (No. 23) Andre Burakovsky, Brown, the Maple Leafs' 2012 sixth-round pick (No. 156) was prepared to be a leader among his fellow prospects.

"Being an older guy here I definitely expect myself to kind of lead the way," Brown said during the early part of the camp. "To be helping out the younger guys, the guys that are here for the first time, it can definitely be overwhelming coming into a place like this with a bunch of new faces. Obviously any chance you have to be up with this club you want to make the best impression you can on the ice."

Brown helped his cause with his season for Erie. What's next for him this season remains in doubt; he'll either play for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League or return to Erie for his over-age season. Though he doesn't know where he'll be, he understands there's an opportunity to be had.

"You've got to keep pushing yourself, obviously. You lead by example and that pushes you as well," Brown said. "In Erie the best way to be a leader there is I push myself by example, day in, day out, and it just kind of follows the philosophy I want to carry into this camp."

Toronto's development camp gave 29 players the opportunity to show the organization where they're at in their careers.

"The kids, they're the engine. We just give suggestions," Maple Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes said. "We nurture them, we teach them, we talk to them, we give them the truth, we give them the good news and the bad news. But at the end of the day, it's the players. They have dreams, they have aspirations. They're determined kids and they have a path and they know where they want to get to. We're talking about special kids there and they're all working hard at their trade."

Brown's aspirations are to make it to the NHL, and each season he's played in Erie he has improved his numbers offensively and defensively.

His first season there, 2011-12, he had 25 goals, 53 points and a minus-72 rating. The following season he scored 28 goals, 69 points and was minus-11. Last season he was plus-44. Those improvements have come at the right time as far as the Maple Leafs are concerned.

"It's incredibly important. These kids that are here right now, and again like I said, you have to also create some spots for them," Maple Leafs president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan said. "You've got to have a few holes there with the big club so that, not only these guys, but our Marlies guys who are in the gym in the mornings, know that there's a reason to be working out this summer, that there's an opportunity and there's a job to be won possibly."

Brown knows he has some work to do if he wants to grab an NHL job. He knows it's important for him to get in the gym to add muscle to his 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame. Strength will be important for him given his size in general, but also for where he believes he's most effective on the ice.

"Anywhere around the net is definitely a good spot for me," Brown said. "Where I score most of my goals is within 5 feet [of the net], but also in the corners, passing pucks on the half-wall. I don't have a favorite."

Competition during training camp in September will be difficult for Brown and other players like him as a number of young players, including those with AHL experience, hope to make their way to the NHL.

"I think the main thing is you've got to keep playing your game, no matter what level you're at," Brown said. "If I'm playing in the [NHL], I'll probably be a scorer. So you've just got to be in your element."

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