The Los Angeles Kings had three first-round picks in the 2003 Entry Draft. This first round is famous for producing some of the best players of this era in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Kings, only one of the three became a successful part of their franchise. However, that player became the all-time leader in games played, became the captain, and the first player in franchise history to lift the Stanley Cup. On Saturday, Feb. 11, the Kings will honor Dustin Brown by retiring No. 23 and giving him a statue in Star Plaza.
Brown’s Early Years
After the Kings selected Brown with the 13th pick in 2003, they immediately brought him up to the big club. He was a very raw prospect, but the team decided to give him a shot. He struggled early, and only scored one goal in 31 games in his rookie season before suffering an injury. The Kings couldn’t have expected much from the 18-year-old at that point, but getting his feet wet in the NHL did help him. He played in the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2004-05 lockout and excelled, which set him up to play well when the NHL resumed.
With the new rules after the lockout, speed was necessary for success. Brown improved his skating but still would provide a physical presence on the ice. He started to really contribute in the next two seasons, especially in 2006-07 as the Kings were going through a rebuild. They got rid of many older players and hired a new general manager in Dean Lombardi, and this meant it was really time for Brown to step into a big role.
Brown’s Prime Years
The 2007-08 season was where Brown really began to establish himself. He scored 33 goals, which wound up being his career high. He also developed a reputation for being a big hitter, having led the league in hits with 311. The Kings became an up-and-coming team with mostly young players and needed a leader. So, before the 2008-09 season, the team named Brown as the captain. He definitely wasn’t the most obvious choice to be the captain as he was somewhat quiet, but he let his play on the ice do the talking.
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“In the room, he’s not a rah-rah guy, he’s a lead by example guy, he just comes in, he shows up and he works. You knew exactly what you’re getting from him every day. Off the ice, it was kind of the same deal. He did his thing, he had his routine, he put his work in. He was just a great teammate and a great captain have and it was a lot of fun,” said Brown’ former teammate, Jeff Carter, to LAKingsinsider.com
Brown got some recognition around the hockey world in the following years. In 2009, he was named to his first All-Star Game. The next year, he got the call to represent Team USA at the Olympics. He played on the fourth line for the national team that went all the way to overtime of the gold-medal game. Brown picked up a silver medal, which would be his second career international medal after a bronze in the 2004 IIHF World Championships.
Having scored at least 24 goals in every season from 2007-08 to 2010-11, Brown began to generate buzz as one of the better power forwards in the league. During this time period, he had at least 169 more hits than any other player in the NHL. The Kings had added some franchise cornerstones in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Johnathan Quick, but still hadn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs. Fortunately, things were about to change.
The Kings’ Cup Years
In the summer of 2011, the Kings made a big splash by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers. With Richards and Kopitar down the middle, and young pieces taking a further step, some people considered the Kings to be true Stanley Cup contenders in 2011-12. However, things took a turn, and the time came to make a coaching change in December. Daryl Sutter took over behind the bench and made some big changes.
Sutter made the Kings very responsible defensively, as they ended up allowing the second-fewest goals in the league. They also struggled to score goals, as they were second-to-last in that department. This struggle saw players’ individual offensive numbers drop, including Brown’s. He scored his fewest goals since the 2006-07 season, and fewest points since 2008-09. The Kings barely snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West.
The Kings matched up with the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1 in the playoffs, and shocked many people when they won the series in five games. A key play in this series was Brown’s hit on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 that really set the tone for the team throughout the playoff run. LA carried this momentum into the next series, sweeping the St. Louis Blues, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in five games, and clinching the first Cup in franchise history in six games against the New Jersey Devils.
Brown really found his game in the 2012 Playoffs after a down regular season. He tied for the lead in goals and points for the whole playoffs, and his physical play was a key in both the Vancouver and Phoenix series. He had a case for the Conn Smythe, if not for Jonathan Quick’s outstanding play in goal.
With the Kings being the eighth seed and surprising everyone by winning the Cup, not many knew what to expect heading into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. They were able to make it to the conference finals before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games. Brown had a great regular season, as his 82-game pace would have seen him score over 32 goals. He slowed down in the playoffs, only scoring three goals in 18 games, but the Kings still felt good about their captain. After this season, they signed Brown to an eight-year contract extension.
The Kings 2013-14 season was the stuff of legends. They came back from down three games to zero against the San Jose Sharks in Round 1 and won, then won two more seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks and Blackhawks. They finished off their second Stanley Cup in three seasons by beating the New York Rangers in five games. Despite the team’s success, Brown took a huge step back. He only scored 15 goals and had 27 points in 79 games, both fewer than what he did in the previous season in which he only played 46 games. He did win the Mark Messier Leadership Award for being the Kings’ captain, but this season started a negative trend in his production.
Brown’s Lean Years
The 2013-14 season began Brown’s decline, and it came more abruptly than most expected. Including that season, he had four straight seasons with fewer than 15 goals and three straight with fewer than 30 points. This also coincided with the Kings no longer being Stanley Cup contenders. They missed the playoffs in the 2014-15 season, and lost in the first round in the 2015-16 season. These poor performances caused the organization to make a change.
The Kings made the choice to remove Brown as the captain after the down years of play for both him personally and the team. There was speculation that he wasn’t part of the core social group with the team and that was part of the reason for doing it. This is also something teams tend to do if their captain has a bad contract, and it would be fair to call Brown’s contract one with negative value given what he had produced in recent seasons. Brown made $5.875 million against the cap and had a partial no-trade clause, and it would have been convenient for the Kings if he were willing to waive that at some point.
Brown’s Final Seasons
Brown was able to get back to his best in the 2017-18 season, in which he scored 28 goals and a career-high 61 points. The Kings returned to the playoffs, but again were bounced in the first round. Over the next three seasons, Brown was able to score more goals than any of the “lean years,” even in the two seasons that were impacted by COVID. Even though he was no longer the captain, he still took a leadership role as a senior player.
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“Obviously, he’s a great guy. I remember, I told the story last year, on my first roadtrip, my first callup, he took me out to dinner and gave me a warm welcome, so I always appreciated that. He’s just a true pro he’s a guy you could learn from and just everything he does at the rink and away from the rink, you can kind of take note up and try to mold yourself after,” said Kings defenseman, Matt Roy, to LAKingsinsider.com
The team was going through a rebuild in much of Brown’s last few seasons, until his final season in 2021-22. They made it back to the playoffs for the first time in four years, but again couldn’t win a series. He finished the playoffs with no goals and two assists in the seven games, which meant he hadn’t scored a playoff goal since 2014. He retired after the season at the age of 37, having played his entire career with the Kings.
Brown’s Legacy With the Kings
Many fans outside of LA questioned the idea that Brown would have a statue outside of Crypto.com Arena. These fans tend to look at just his numbers and miss the greater context of what he meant to the team. Before this era, most of the Kings’ all-time-great players did not spend their entire career with the club. In his heyday, Brown provided a rare blend of big hits and goal scoring that always resonated with fans. This is part of the reason Brown was voted as the most popular player by the Kings Booster Club five times.
Off the ice, Brown became an important part of the community. He really came of age in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, moving to the area at the age of 18, having four kids, and continuing to live there after his retirement. In 2011, he won the NHL Foundation Award for his work with the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. He also won the Kings’ team award for community service four times.
Since the NHL began tracking hits in the 2005-06 season, Brown has the second most of any player. To be able to do that, while playing 1,296 career games and scoring 325 goals is a rare feat for any player. He may not be the hall of fame legend that normally is required for a statue, but he was the captain for the Kings’ first two Stanley Cups in franchise history. That is something that will always hold a special memory in the hearts and minds of Kings’ fans.