On Thursday, April 28, Los Angeles Kings fans received the news that team legend Dustin Brown will be retiring after the 2022 Playoffs. Brown captained the team to their only two Stanley Cup victories in 2012 and 2014 and was instrumental in both championships. He will go down as one of the organization’s all-time greats and deserves to have his jersey hang from the rafters one day.
Early Years of Brown’s Career
Brown is a member of the historic 2003 Draft class, considered by many to be the greatest class of all time. A native of Ithaca, New York, the Guelph Storm drafted him in the second round of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) draft. He spent three seasons there, registering 194 points in 174 career regular-season games and 28 points in 24 playoff games.
He had success on and off the ice, winning the Bobby Smith Award as the OHL Scholastic Player of the Year all three seasons with the Storm and the Canadian Hockey League Scholastic Player Award in his draft year. In his draft season, Brown posted 76 points in 58 games, ranked sixth among first-year draft-eligible forwards.
The Kings drafted Brown 13th overall in 2003. He was an intelligent two-way player with a goal-scoring touch and a power-forward style of play. After being drafted, he spent the 2003-04 season with the team, playing in 31 games as a rookie before spending the 2004-05 season in the American Hockey League (AHL), where he dominated with 74 points in 79 games. That was the last time Brown played in the AHL, and his ascent to becoming a Kings legend began. He spent two more seasons learning the NHL game before having his breakout campaign in 2007-08.
Brown Enters His Prime
The 2007-08 season is still arguably the best regular season of Brown’s career. He scored a career-high 33-goals, the only 30-goal campaign of his career, and led the NHL with 311 hits. Brown was a force to be reckoned with, and the league would have to pay attention to him. Alongside fellow young forward Anze Kopitar, the Kings had a foundation to build a championship team around. That summer, they drafted superstar defenseman Drew Doughty second overall, and Jonathan Quick took over as the team’s starter in net. Brown finished top three in team scoring in each of the next five seasons before he cemented himself as a legendary player in 2012.
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After a disappointing start to the season, the Kings weren’t sure about their future, and surprisingly trade rumors surrounded Brown. However, after a coaching change that saw Darryl Sutter take over for Terry Murray, the team found their game and snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
They faced the Vancouver Canucks, who were coming off a Stanley Cup Final loss and were considered heavy favorites to win the Cup. After starting the series hot with three points in the first two games, Brown delivered a check to Canucks captain Henrik Sedin in Game 3 that is forever seared in the minds of Kings fans and was a pivotal moment in those playoffs. He then scored the only goal of the game in the third period to give the Kings a 3-0 series lead.
Brown continued to dominate through the playoffs, finishing tied for the lead in points and goals with Kopitar. Had it not been for one of the greatest performances ever by Quick, Brown would have had a serious claim to the Conn Smythe Trophy. He was the first King and American captain to ever lift the Cup, cementing himself in King’s history.
After that run, Brown put together a solid lockout season, scoring 18 goals in 46 games for a 32-goal pace. Unfortunately, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Kings in the Conference Final.
The 2013-14 regular season didn’t go as planned for Brown, with just 27 points in 19 games. He turned it on in the playoffs, though, with 14 points in 26 games and playing a pivotal role on the team’s first line alongside Kopitar and the newly acquired Marian Gaborik. Providing the physicality and grit his line needed, Brown facilitated Kopitar and Gaborik lighting up the playoffs. He lifted the team’s second Cup in three seasons, confirming that his #23 would hang from the then-named Staples Center rafters.
The next few seasons were tough for Brown, as he broke 30 points just once, with 36 in 2016-17. He was no longer the feared power forward who was a lock for 20 goals. He struggled to have an impact and had just one point in the team’s five playoff games during that span. He lost the captaincy in 2016, which went to star center, Kopitar. This came just two years after Brown won the Mark Messier Leadership Award, and it was a shock to everyone.
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He was left unprotected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft for the newly formed Golden Knights to grab him for free. The Knights selected Brayden McNabb, and Brown returned to the Kings that season. Many people thought he was heading for an early end to his career, but he shocked everyone with a bounce-back 2017-18 season. Off the back of Kopitar’s best season to date, Brown grabbed 28 goals and a career-high 61-points. He was back to being a top-line player and optimism was high after a playoff return.
Despite another solid season in 2018-19, the Kings missed the playoffs and finished tied with the Ottawa Senators for the second-fewest points in the league. In January of that season, the Kings traded Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs, marking the start of a full rebuild. Brown had to accept that his team would not be competing for a championship anytime soon and that he might not get another chance. After finishing bottom-three in the league, the Kings were again a bottom feeder in the 2019-20 season, and despite improving, were a bottom-10 team again in 2020-21.
During that time, Brown never let his head drop and stayed a leader throughout. His play remained solid, finishing top three on the team in points for two of the three seasons and leading the team in goals in 2020-21. His play has fallen off considerably this season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an impact. Having a player of his stature and personality will have a lasting impact on the Kings’ young players.
Players like Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, and others will benefit from this season with Brown. Having the opportunity to go to the rink every day and see how a consummate professional carries himself, the lessons he can teach, and the mentality he can instill will be massive for their development. General manager Rob Blake and President Luc Robitaille reminded their fans of this at the State of the Franchise meeting.
If this group of Kings prospects finds success, they will give plenty of credit to Brown, and the things he taught them. Players who spent just a few games with the team, like Samuel Fagemo or Alex Turcotte, will also have felt Brown’s impact. He helped instill a winning culture into the organization that will last well beyond his career.
Brown Retires a Legend
After two seasons that saw him suffer injury, and a career of putting his body on the line, Brown has decided to call it quits. He will finish his career as the all-time leader in regular-season games played for the franchise, the only team captain to lift the Stanley Cup, and the leader in games played from the historic 2003 Draft. There’s no question that he will be the last Kings player to wear #23, and his impact will be felt for a long time. There’s also a good chance he’ll be inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame.
His retirement is still fresh, but I expect the team to announce that Brown is moving into a front office or coaching staff role sometime in the future. He could one day take over the general manager role from Blake, another former King player turned manager. Either way, Brown will go down as one of the greats.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.