Dustin Brown’s Improved Play Is About Much More Than Not Wearing The “C”

EL SEGUNDO, CA — No, he’s not setting the National Hockey League on fire, nor is he hot enough to melt the ice he’s been skating on. Nevertheless, much maligned forward Dustin Brown has not only been a far better player compared to the one he has been the last few seasons, but he has also been one of the Los Angeles Kings’ best players so far this season.

Through 20 games this season, Brown has scored three goals and has added six assists for nine points. That puts him on pace to score twelve goals and to contribute 25 assists for 37 points.

Last season, Brown ended the regular season with 11 goals and 17 assists, good for 28 points in 82 games.

Although that extrapolation seems to indicate that Brown isn’t showing a tremendous amount of improvement over last season, numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Indeed, Brown is skating better than he has in the past few seasons, and has been much more of an offensive threat, as well. All that has resulted in Brown, along with line mates Nic Dowd and Devin Setoguchi, being the team’s most consistent line through the first two months of the season, and has given the Kings a third line that can be productive, something they’ve lacked the last couple of seasons.

In fact, that line has been so consistent and effective that while other lines have seen changes in recent weeks, this line has remained unchanged.

“That helps,” said Brown. “It’s also a product of us producing a little bit, and having a little bit more consistency. I think that’s probably still the main thing for us—following a game with another good game. That’s probably our main focus, as a line, and individually.”

But Brown also pointed specifically to the addition of Dowd, as the team’s third line center.

“I think we all bring a lot of different things to the table, but the biggest thing is that we have a playmaker like Dowd in the middle,” he emphasized. “When you have a guy who can make plays out of the middle, it just creates a lot of problems for the other team.”

“If you look at what our [first and second line] centers generate out of the middle—and they drive those lines—we have the same thing with Nic,” he added. “He makes some really smart offensive plays. Seto and I, all we’ve got to do is work.”

To be sure, although it is still very early in his rookie season, Dowd has been an upgrade for the Kings at the third line center position.

“It comes back to the playmaking ability,” Brown noted. “We’ve always had very responsible players in the third line spot. That goes a long way [in terms of] the way we play. But if you want to get production from the third line—just the way our system is designed, it runs through the middle, and if you put a guy with [Dowd’s] skill set there, good things can happen.”

“[Brown is] a guy who wants the puck and that works well with me, because I’m a pass first kind of guy,” said Dowd. “Sometimes, that gets me in a bit of trouble, but I think it pairs well with him because he’s definitely a shooter, and he likes to go north, which is something I found out really quickly. That’s good to know. Some guys are side-to-side players who like to possess the puck and bring it back. But Brownie likes to get the puck and go north, get to the net and stick his nose in there.”

Brown’s north-south-go-to-the-net game does seem to complement Dowd’s playmaking abilities.

“I know he was a very impactful player when they won both Cups,” Dowd noted. “Speaking from the games I’ve played with him, he likes to get to the net, which is a good quality for any player. That’s where the goals are scored nowadays. That’s where [two] of his [three] goals [to date] were scored this year—inside the crease, basically.”

“He’s a good player,” Dowd added. “He gets to the net, he’s able to possess the puck, and he’s good in his own end. When you’re good in your own end, as Dustin is, that helps us get up the ice and play where we want to play.”

“I think [Brown] demands a lot. He’s been around awhile, he knows what he wants, and I think that’s a good thing. It makes you play at a higher level.”

Another reason for Brown’s resurgence is that he’s having fun playing hockey again.

“It’s been an interesting few months,” he said. “I’m just trying to find my game and have fun doing it. That’s the biggest key. This is probably the first time I’ve had fun playing hockey in a couple of years.”

“I know, in saying that, we play a game for a living,” he added. “But it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life. If you’re not having fun, it’s tough to do it.”

Although he didn’t agree with the Kings decision to replace him as captain this past summer, as Brown’s statement about having fun playing hockey again more than suggests, the change has helped him.

“It’s definitely different [not being the captain],” he noted. “But my role here is different, so the dynamics of it are different. But it’s much easier for me on a day-to-day basis. There’s a lot of things that go into it. That’s probably a good thing for me. I’m just helping [center Anze Kopitar, the team’s new captain], a little bit, because there’s a lot more than just ceremonial puck drops for a captain.”

“My role inside this room, amongst the guys, is no different than it was last year,” he added. “There’s just less responsibility elsewhere, and I try to use that to my advantage and focus my resources elsewhere.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is in the mental aspects of playing hockey.

“In a good way, I’m not taking the game home with me, which, in years past, has been a difficult thing for me not to do,” said Brown. “As a competitor, you take everything personally [being the captain]. Now, it’s like I’m kind of detached, a little bit, from it, which is a good thing. So I get to come to work every day and just do my job. It’s been much easier to kind of leave it here, which, I think, is much healthier.”

Clearing the air with head coach Darryl Sutter was also critical.

“A lot of the things we went through this summer were beneficial, getting it out into the [open]—for me, personally, getting it off my chest,” Brown noted. “I’m sure everyone’s been there, where something’s been bugging you and you’re holding something inside. It’s hard to carry that weight, emotional or whatever it is. That’s the thing I had been carrying and it had nothing to do with the captaincy. It was differences between me and Darryl that we went through and got out in the [open]. I think that helped me more than anything.”

“When you’re not carrying that around with you, you feel a little lighter, a little better. You kind of look at things a little differently, so it’s a big mix of the process,” Brown added. “I still did all the stuff I needed to do to be ready, physically and mentally. Then you tie it back to that Dowd, Seto and I have kind of found something. We’re getting points, being productive and contributing to wins, and whether you’re a fourth line guy or a first line guy, everyone wants to score points and help the team win.”

Although Brown has been very, very visible as an improved player who has been giving the Kings what they need and what they hoped for this past summer, just don’t ask Sutter about his play.

“You evaluate it,” Sutter said, when asked to comment on Brown. “You guys keep talking about Brownie. He’s got a great attitude and he’s working really hard. But you evaluate it after twenty games. That’s what you do. It’s all with data and statistics, so you do it.”

Brown Dishes On Handling of Captaincy Change

Although it is apparent that Brown has had some pretty heavy weight lifted off his shoulders and that he is using that to his advantage, he acknowledged that the captaincy change was not an easy thing to accept or handle. That much was clear from his conference call with the media on June 30, in which he was emotional and rather honest, if not blunt, about the change.

“I don’t know if I was expecting to do it, but I wasn’t going to sugarcoat how I felt about it,” he said. “I try to be as transparent as possible. How it came across, it was better to get it off my chest and that’s what the whole summer was about. In my meetings with [President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi], there were a lot of things that were said, so it was just one of those things.”

“It’s not too often that you have to deal with something like that,” he added. “Most of the questions we get are about X’s and O’s and what happened here. They’re the same questions, the same answers. I think that was a unique situation and I had feelings one way or another about it. When it’s questions about the game—you guys probably get sick of our answers. But at the end of the day, those are the answers. What’s going on with our game? The answer is we need to forecheck better. Those are boring answers where there was probably a little bit more [candor] in how I felt.”

Brown took the change hard, but not for too long.

“You’re down in the gutter and you have to work through the emotions,” he noted. “It was tough for a few weeks, but you’ve got to get through it. Then, your emotions subside, you try to take positives out of it, and look at it away from the emotion.”

“That conference call—I don’t know how many weeks after [the change] it was,” he added. “I still have my feelings about it, but it was separated and detached from my emotions, a little bit. I just shared, really, how I felt.”

Brown indicated that the whole process could’ve been handled a lot better.

“I didn’t agree with it, obviously,” he said. “Then, how it played out—I think I talked about this on the conference call. They told me they were working through it, but then it leaked out. At that point, just address it. I was disappointed, and I told Dean to his face that I was disappointed. It was leaked, so just announce it. That was my biggest frustration with the whole process.”

“It was their choice,” he added. “I’m fine with it. I’m a big boy. If they don’t want me to be captain, that’s fine. I didn’t agree with it, but once it was leaked, [they should have just made] a statement. Do something.”

“Nothing happened for awhile, and then, they wanted me there when they announced it. I thought that [it] should be about Kopi and Kopi only. It’s not about me anymore. It never really was. That conference call happened so late. That was my biggest frustration.”

Now, Brown is there to help and support the current leadership, but, as reported earlier, he no longer has all that extra weight on his shoulders.

“The message was that it was their time to lead, and I’m talking about Kopi, [and] Drew [Doughty],” said Brown. “If it’s their time to lead, it’s their time. I’ll help’em behind the scenes, but that’s the way they want to go, so they need to stay with it, and these guys need to take it by the horns.”

“I’ll try to help’em as much as I can behind the scenes, but it’s their team.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.

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