Athletic DNA of J. T. Brown

As a young man in High Point, North Carolina, Thomas Edward Brown was not exposed to the game of hockey. Football was a different story and Brown, known as Ted or more familiarly, Touchdown Ted went from High Point to being an All-American running back at North Carolina State. Deceptively fast, Brown set scoring records for the Wolfpack that stand today.

Brown wore number 23 at N.C. State while scoring 51 touchdowns and throwing for one more while earning All-American honors. Touchdown Ted was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings in 1979. He wore the same jersey number in Minnesota as he did in college and scored another 40 regular season TDs along with three post-season TDs in his eight NFL seasons.

I mention the jersey number because as a tribute to his father, J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lighting, son of Ted Brown, wears the number 23 on his Lightning sweater. The son never had a chance to see the father play his game. The father retired four years before the son was born.

It matters not that the son never saw the father play as the genetics in both of these world class athletes is obvious. The speed and skills both men show in their respective sports is there to witness.

During and after his NFL career, Brown got married, remained near the Twin Cities in Minnesota and with his wife, raised their family in nearby Rosemount. His son, Joshua Thomas Brown grew up playing all sports but by the time he attended Rosemount High School, young J.T. as he was called, had decided to concentrate on playing hockey.

The decision seemed to be the right one as the younger Brown, played for the University of Minnesota Duluth as was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four as he led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship.

J.T. Brown Undrafted but Undeterred

Despite this achievement in college hockey’s biggest spotlight, Brown went undrafted in the 2012 NHL draft. Quite the opposite of his dad’s first round selection. This did not derail the son as he did sign an entry level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 28, 2012 and played five games with the big club in the spring of 2012 before spending the bulk of the next two years with the Lightning AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.

Over the last couple of seasons, Brown has played in over 100 NHL games for Tampa, mostly on the third and fourth lines. During his collegiate career, Brown was a point a game scorer, nothing 84 points in 81 NCAA games. Okay, so it didn’t earn him a catchy nickname like his dad, Brown the son was making some noise with his play. Check out the video below for some highlights of Brown’s collegiate years. At the American Hockey League, Brown still scored though not quite a point a game during parts of two seasons with the Crunch, Brown tallied 38 points in 64 games.

Like a lot of scorers in the Juniors or the NCAA or even in the AHL, Brown has thus far found it challenging to light the lamp in the NHL on a consistent basis. It is tough when you are getting 12 to 14 minutes of ice time. The third and fourth lines on most NHL teams are the grinders, instigators and defenders that either keeps the opponents in check or work to get under their skin. Brown does this part of his job very well.

But the last few games have been different. Coach Jon Cooper has said that he is happy with Brown’s play and it has warranted more ice time for Brown. Most of the season, Brown has seen about 11 minutes on the ice, generally as a fourth liner. Over the team’s last five games, Brown has seen an average of over 15 minutes of ice time per game. In three of the five games, Brown got an assist, harkening back to his almost a point a game days.

At five foot ten weighing in at 170 pounds, it is not as if he cuts an imposing figure. His father was a couple inches shorter but carried about 35 more pounds than the son. Yet, when the younger Brown crashes into the boards or an opposing player, the hit is felt. Just ask Dan Boyle of the New York Rangers. In a game a couple of weeks ago, Brown spent seemingly his whole night on the ice getting under the skin of Boyle to the point that both he and Boyle earned matching roughing penalties. Not to mention that Brown assisted on a goal in that Tampa victory.

The very next game against the Anaheim Ducks, Brown is at it again with long time NHL heavy hitter, Kevin Bieksa. His play, particularly in the offensive zone earned Brown a roughing penalty against the bigger and no doubt stronger Bieksa. If you haven’t seen Brown play, think of a younger Ryan Callahan…..with speed. Brown digs into the corners for pucks as well as Callahan does and neither player is afraid of the brutal, physical part of this game and because of their hustle and grit, can get a scoring chance or two a game. Kind of like a linebacker to put it in terms familiar to his father.

Over the last month with the team experiencing a rash of injuries to about a half dozen players, Brown has stepped his game up a notch. He has always played with speed and has shown that he won’t back down from giving or receiving a well-timed hit. The additional minutes of ice time has resulted in more scoring chances and Brown is capitalizing on these opportunities.

Through the team’s first 25 games, Brown has two goals and six assists. He totaled three goals and six assists all of last season. He is on track to notch seven goals and twenty assists. With a solid 15 minutes of ice time the remainder of the season and it is a real possibility Brown can score 10 goals and 25 assists.

Get What You Give

In the meritocracy that is the NHL, playing time is earned by well, your playing time. More specifically, it is what you do with the time you get that earns you more time to do the things you do. Much easier said or typed than done. When you are an undrafted player, the likelihood of seeing any NHL ice time is rare. When you get that opportunity, you make the most of that. Brown has fellow un-draftee, Tyler Johnson as a model to follow.

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Brown has earned more time and has made the most out of it so far. This bodes well for not only the player but the franchise as well. As younger players transition from the Juniors or the NCAA or the AHL to the NHL, their amount of ice time is currency and you earn more with what you make of the time you get. The combination of unforeseen injuries and makeshift lines with AHL callups has provided Brown with increased ice time and a chance to show some of the younger players what can get you more playing time.

Players recently called up from Syracuse like Jonathan Marchessault and Joel Vermin are seeing Brown do the things that are necessary for those two youngsters to stay in Tampa. The way they are flying around the ice, going after the puck like a junkyard dog goes after a done is keeping the injury depleted team in games.

Should Brown continue to play at the recent level he is reaching, the Lightning will see more and more of the offensive skills he showed in college. As the team continues to negotiate the long-term Steven Stamkos contract, Brown’s improved play could make other forwards expendable in a trade. If Brown is the target of any potential trades, his improved play not only brings him to a team that wants him but should bring value to the team.

Like his dad heading into the end zone, J.T. Brown is becoming hard not to notice on the ice. He has the athletic DNA of being a legacy. Sure, his father’s sport was played on the frozen tundra of Minneapolis’ Metropolitan Stadium and the son’s sport is indoors but played on a frozen surface too. Like his dad, when Brown’s number is called, he is answering that bell.