Now that he has reached the ripe, old age of 30 Dustin Brown can reflect on why he isn’t the same player he was at 19, when he set a tone for his career by hitting just about anything that moved.
Some of the change in his game comes from wisdom, some from the Kings becoming a better team.
“I think it’s kind of an evolution,” he said. “Everyone remembers when I was 22, 23. We weren’t a very good team and as a result I ran around and hit guys. And they were big hits. Everyone remembers them. Now, it’s, we have the puck a lot more. We control the game a different way than we did back then.”
Brown, who became the first American-born player to serve as the Kings’ captain when he was appointed to the job before the 2008-09 season, also isn’t scoring as often as he did in his younger days. He scored 33 goals in the 2007-08 season, 24 goals each of the next two seasons, and 28 in 2010-11 but has scored 22, 18 and 15 in the three seasons since then. This season, Brown has scored only two goals, one of them the game-winner at Dallas on Tuesday to celebrate his 30th birthday.
But Brown, a key contributor to the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship runs in 2012 and last spring, said he’s feeling healthy and strong even if his production doesn’t reflect that now.
“My stats this year aren’t very good but I feel I’ve played better hockey the first 13 games than I did all of last year,” said Brown, whose average ice time of 17 minutes and nine seconds is up from last season’s 15:50. “Just holding onto pucks, making better plays when I have the puck….
“I feel like I’m moving a lot better this year than I did in probably the last two years.”
Brown skated on the right side with Dwight King and Mike Richards in Thursday’s morning skate, as the Kings prepared to face the New York Islanders Thursday at Staples Center. However, as anyone familiar with Coach Darryl Sutter’s style knows, that alignment easily could change. Right wing Justin Williams won’t play because he’s still recovering from an eye injury.
The other lines were Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli; Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis and Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Jordan Nolan.
Brown said he makes subtle adjustments depending on his linemates.
“When I’m playing with Kopi maybe it’s get to the net and open up space for him, whereas when I’m playing with Stollie, Stollie generally likes to give me the puck and do that himself,” Brown said. “I’ve just made a conscious effort more to just hold onto pucks more. Sometimes it gets me in trouble because I hold onto it too long but again, it’s about trying to find new ways to have an impact on games.”
Sutter said Brown has had more of an effect than his recent numbers would suggest.
“I think the last two or three games of the trip we’ve seen more of Dustin Brown, not because he scored but a little bit more of that forceful game that we need out of him,” Sutter said.
“The question was asked earlier, gets asked often about Brownie, but Brownie has had success by playing a very certain way and that’s how he has to play. When he gets away from not playing a straight-line game, then he struggles. When he’s on that straight-line game and being a good forecheck guy and being a real good penalty killer for us then he’s really effective.”
Stoll said Brown contributes in ways that aren’t easy to quantify.
“There’s a lot of parts to people’s games that aren’t just offensive and I think that’s more evident now in the league,” Stoll said. “Eight, 10, 15 years ago, there’s guys that were strictly goal scorers and if they didn’t score goals, they probably weren’t playing well. Now you’ve got to be a full player with a 200-foot game and both sides of the puck. Brownie plays in all situations. He’s physical still. He kills penalties, plays on the power play. Very versatile for a coach to be able to put him in anywhere.
“Yeah, maybe his numbers are down, but he’s still a huge part of this team, like he was five years ago, seven years ago.”