Long-time Kings power forward Dustin Brown’s slide toward irrelevancy since signing his 8-year, $47 million contract extension has been well-documented. If recent play is any indication, Santa may have put new batteries into an important cog of the Kings’ 2016 Stanley Cup hopes.
Let’s not forget what Dustin Brown once meant for Los Angeles.
Dustin Brown was once a consistent 50+ point scorer
Like most young players, it took Dustin Brown a few years to find his stride. He recorded 28 points his first full season and 46 the next, displaying inconsistency despite his upward trajectory in production. Like Brown, the Kings were a young, inconsistent team, one that missed the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.
Brown’s offensive game came around in 2007-08, as he scored 33 goals and added 27 assists en route to a career-high 60 point season. That started a streak of five straight years (six, if you annualize his lockout-shortened 2012-13 numbers) of at least 22 goals and 53 points. Sure, he still had holes in his game, but he became a reasonably consistent top-sixer who played a two-way game and served the Kings well as captain since 2008.
Oh, by the way, he also hit like a freight train driven by an angry rhinoceros:
His falloff has been dramatic
After leading the team to three straight Western Conference Final appearances and two Stanley Cups, the wheels came off the offensive wagon in 2013-14. Suddenly, the offensive output — for which the Kings paid handsomely to secure over eight more years — all but disappeared.
Brown struggled during the regular season, managing just 15 goals and 27 points in 79 games. His scoring came about somewhat during the playoffs, notching six goals and eight assists in 26 games while the Kings won their second Cup. Maybe it was just a one-year thing, the product of playing nearly every regular-season match along with 44 postseason games over two years.
It wasn’t. Brown had an even worse year in 2014-15, potting a career-low (not counting his partial 2003-04 campaign) 11 goals. At -17, his +/- was the second-worst of his career. Brown’s advanced stats remained upper-tier, but that didn’t translate into the kind of production Los Angeles was expecting for a player with a $5.875 million cap hit. To add insult to injury, the Kings missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.
This season hasn’t been much better — until recently
Most often seen skating on the third line with Trevor Lewis and other rotating linemen (Dwight King being the latest), Brown amassed just nine points in his first 32 games, a pace below even his substandard previous two seasons. Virtually every article listing the worst contracts in the NHL prominently featured his name.
It’s a very small sample size, but things are beginning to look up for Brown.
In his last 12 games, Dustin Brown has scored seven points, a pace that (if sustained) approaches the levels he showed during his heyday. Even better, he has two goals and three assists in just his past four games.
During the recent streak, his shots on goal are up, he’s throwing the body around (five hits against Edmonton in his most recent game), and his ATOI has climbed back into the 17-18 minute range after sinking to as low as 12:22 back on December 6th.
On the reasons for the success he’s finding with Lewis and King, Brown said:
I think we’ve been good on the forecheck, and when we’re good on the forecheck, that’s when we can dominate games, because we get the puck back and we’re a possession team – everyone knows we’re a possession team – but a lot goes into that, and it really actually starts in our own zone. To be able to forecheck really well, we have to make good plays coming out of our zone and through the neutral zone and be connected. There’s those game where we’re struggling to get out of our zone, and as a result our forecheck is too far, guys are too far apart on the forecheck, and then we’re playing one of those games. I think this road trip we’ve been really good coming out of our zone, going into theirs (LA Kings Insider).
The Kings need their captain to produce
Uncharacteristically, Los Angeles has been scoring at a reasonable clip this year, averaging 2.67 goals per game. With their defense and goaltending, that level of scoring is plenty good enough to build a ten point lead in the Pacific Division as of this writing.
With that said, it’s important that his $5.875 million cap hit — second highest on the club — not be a sinkhole. The Kings need Brown’s leadership, both on and off the ice. For them to be at their best, that includes generating enough offense to help propel Los Angeles to the promised land.
Thoughts about Brown? Do you believe this is just a short-term blip, or might he have turned the corner again? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.