Connor Brown hopes to build off lost season by improving speed, efficiency

Brown hopes to build off lost season by improving speed, efficiency originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ARLINGTON, Va. — Connor Brown never got his chance to prove himself with the Capitals. He tore his right ACL in just his fourth game with the team, missing the rest of the season in what was the final year of his contract.

Had the Capitals made the playoffs, Brown might have been an option to return to the lineup if he progressed enough in his rehab. The optimistic end of his originally projected six-to-eight-month timeline would’ve given him a chance to play as early as the last week of the regular season. However, he instead will get nearly a full year to work his way back from the reconstructive surgery as he faces a critical point in his NHL career.

“It's been the biggest test of my career so far, to be able to be honest, to go through this,” Brown said in his end-of-season press conference April 15.

“You come to a new team, you're adjusting early, playing with the new system, new guys and then to have the season cut really short like that after I felt like I settled in nicely in the preseason — I felt really good about my game coming into this as far as me personally and it was just, it’s obviously tough. When you get three games you don't really have time to find a groove and then it's cut short. But you gain perspective going through things like this, so at this point, I am grateful for the lessons and looking forward to the future.”

The Capitals acquired Brown for a 2024 second-round pick in a deal with the Ottawa Senators last offseason. Coming off three straight seasons with 35 points or more, the 29-year-old took reps on the Capitals’ top line opposite Alex Ovechkin during training camp. He was expected, along with fellow offseason addition Dylan Strome, to help carry some of the offensive load in the early months while Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom finished off their own surgery rehabs.

While Strome blossomed with a career year in his first season for Washington, Brown spent most of his in the trainer’s room. Once it became clear the Capitals weren’t going to be in the playoffs and he didn’t have to rush his way back, he shifted his focus to preparing for next season’s training camp.

“I tried to approach this rehab as an opportunity to reinvent my biomechanics and be as efficient as possible,” Brown said. “When it comes to my rehab and when it comes to the way I move and the speed and everything. So, the plan is to get better. The plan isn't to just get back where I want to be. I want to make improvements and you get a full calendar year to just improve on yourself and improve on your strength and your skills. All summer improve on skating. So yeah, that’s the expectation for myself.”

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan left open the possibility of Brown returning to Washington next year and taking another crack at being the top-six forward they believed he could be.

“I would have loved to have him play the whole year and see where he fits,” MacLellan said. “From a personnel standpoint, we really like the player. He’s a good person. It seems like he would have been a perfect fit for us…The situation we’re in now, I guess we’ll talk to his representatives and see what they’re thinking just before free agency and then we’ll examine what we think we can get done — trades, free agents — and put that decision in that group.”

After carrying a $3.6 million cap hit last season, Brown is a potential candidate for a one-year deal as he looks to reestablish his value. The Capitals have an exclusive window with which to negotiate an extension before free agency opens this summer. With plenty of time to get his knee right this summer, Brown feels confident he’ll be a full go come training camp.

“I'll be ready,” Brown said. “It's nice to see Tommy Wilson go through the same injury as me and the way he played, especially down the stretch the last 20 games, you can see him get his jump back and playing 20 minutes. So, that's inspiring [to] see. He's been very helpful and throughout my process, and it's been inspiring to see him play so well down the stretch. But yeah, I'll be ready.”