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Oilers’ Connor Brown finally has some “Pop” back in his game

Edmonton Oilers Connor Brown Stanley Cup Final
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
Connor Brown went 720 days without scoring an NHL goal. He played 72 NHL games with three different teams in that span. He played the final 14 games of the 2022 season with Ottawa. He was traded to Washington in the off-season, but he tore his ACL in his fourth game of the season with the Capitals on October 17th, 2022. He missed the remaining 78 games and became an unrestricted free agent last summer. He signed a one-year, $4m AAV, bonus-laden deal with the Edmonton Oilers on July 1st, 2023.
He was eight and a half months into his rehab when he signed with the Oilers, but little did he know how much longer he’d need before he started feeling good again.
Brown was excited to sign with the Oilers. He chose them because he felt they were a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. He had multi-year offers from other teams but elected to sign with the Oilers because he felt they could win and he could contribute. He was correct about the former, but it took him longer to live up to the latter.
“I thought I would come along a bit quicker, but I did just in time,” said Brown after Game 4. “I have a high sense and belief in myself that I can be a difference maker. It is rewarding to go through such struggles mentally and physically and kind of get back to what I feel is my true self.”
Brown had a rough regular season. He wasn’t fully recovered from his ACL surgery. He didn’t have any structural issues with his knee when the season began, he just didn’t have the same strength he had prior to the injury. It turns out, he simply needed more time to recover.
In the aftermath of the Oilers ‘big 8-1 victory in Game 4, where Brown and linemate Mattias Janmark played major roles in jumpstarting the Oilers, Brown and I discussed his path back to feeling good and making an impact. He needed to regain his strength, and speed, during the season. It was a lot of work.
“It is just consistency,” said Brown. “With the technology and the science these guys have here it is amazing. It was staying on top of things, obviously I’m putting in the work, but they (strength and conditioning coaches) are helping me every step of the way to get that pop back. I mean, I didn’t really have that jump that allows me to get to pucks or get my stick on pucks.
“And then there was some other things that start to creep in, like favouring one side, and I was dealing with that a lot during the season, which takes away from your ability to go 100%, and get out of the hole. There he is right there, Chad, I owe a lot to that man.”
As we spoke Brown saw head strength and conditioning coach, Chad Drummond, walk in the room. It was perfect timing. Drummond and assistant strength and conditioning coach, Joel Jackson (no relation to Jeff Jackson) have helped Brown get back to the player he felt he could be and the one the Oilers wanted when they signed him last summer.
Brown, and the Oilers, knew his rehab wasn’t complete when he signed. No rehab is complete after 8.5 months, so Drummond met with Brown, did some tests, and immediately got him on a very specific program.
“We did a bunch of testing with him and with that testing information we built a program for him,” explained Drummond. “One thing was he was dealing with was patella tendinitis, which is fairly common after ACL surgery, and because of that he was stepping back. We did some (patella) tendon hypertrophy stuff, so we isolate the tendon to try and help make it grow. We have force plates in the back (workout room), and he was doing jumps on the force plates so we could see his symmetry. We have tools back there so we can test his strength, and he had some strength deficits, and we built a program to help build his strength. We built it to help him during the season, and then we have specific movements and training set to do on practice days, or in the morning and even after games. He put in a lot of a work.”
It took longer than Brown wanted, but it is obvious when you watch games how much better he looks now a few months ago.
“Not even close,” said Brown when asked how he feels now compared to earlier in the season. “I didn’t have the jump in the regular season that I do now, and to be honest that is all thanks to the strength and conditioning staff, they are the best in the world. I’m so lucky, we’re so lucky that we get to work with guys like this, and their help this year to bring me from where I was to where I am physically, it is tough to put into words.
“You don’t realize how much of a factor it (being fully healthy) is until you start to feel good again. So now looking back it is a major factor. My ability to turn, get out of turns fast, my first couple steps, my stops and starts, everything. It is all a testament to the strength and conditioning staff.”
And once he started to feel better, he was able to play better.
“Absolutely. You create that much more time for yourself, and you can jump on pucks,” explained Brown. “Skating has always been probably my biggest asset as a player. I feel like hockey IQ and skating have been my best assets, and at the beginning of the year skating wasn’t a big strength of mine, and now it is back to being one and it has allowed me to make more of an impact in games.”
Brown and Mattias Janmark connected for their second short-handed goal of the playoffs in Game 4. They have been stellar as a duo on the penalty kill, but also 5×5.
Since Brown stepped into the lineup in Game 2 v. Vancouver, he and Janmark have played almost exclusively together on both units. On the penalty kill Brown and Janmark have outscored the opposition 2-1 and they have outscored teams 3-2 at 5×5. And often, they have had momentum-changing shifts to help swing the play back in Edmonton’s favour.
Brown has been relentless on the forecheck, checking with his stick more than his body. Now that he’s fully healthy again, we’ve seen him strip pucks, hound defenceman in the offensive zone and pressure up high on the penalty kill. He’s become an impact player for the Oilers.
He’s finally completely healthy, and his play is a reminder of how important health is for players being able to contribute, whether it is in the regular season or the playoffs.
Brown has his “pop” back, and if the Oilers are going to complete the major comeback, they can look at Brown as an example of how things can finish better than they started.

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