While Dustin Brown has been a cornerstone of the Los Angeles Kings’ lineup since the 2005-06 NHL season, many were starting to question why the 37-year-old forward is still on the team’s top line. Head coach Todd McLellan has indicated that he plans on moving Brown down to the second or third line. I will offer an analysis as to why this can be seen as an opportunity rather than a demotion for Brown.
Brown has spent his entire career with the Kings. Eighteen seasons with one team is an extremely impressive feat; however, Brown’s time with the team has not been entirely perfect. Throughout his career, he has experienced many ups and downs, specifically in the scoring department. The most significant down was from 2013-16, where he failed to post more than 30 points in a single season, ultimately resulting in his captaincy being stripped from him. Since then, he has experienced a huge career resurgence. Well, that is, until now. In a season where the Kings are looking to turn a corner, Brown has been struggling offensively early on.
In 16 games played thus far, Brown has posted seven points, including two goals and five assists. For a 37-year-old, just below 0.5 points per game is not bad. It is not, however, particularly good for a top-line winger on a team that is looking to make a return to the playoffs. McLellan has been patient with Brown by keeping him on the top line as the team recovered from an early wave offensive injuries and placements on the COVID protocol list, and his production has not improved. That’s okay. It is simply time to try something else.
Getting key players such as Viktor Arvidsson, Andreas Athanasiou, and Lias Andersson back made the already competitive Kings lineup even harder to crack. After dropping two straight on the heels of a seven-game winning streak, McLellan is looking to solidify a lineup that can compete night after night and, ideally, be less streaky. As of right now, Dustin Brown is not playing like a first-line caliber player. There are several younger players that are ready and willing to take that next step, and they are producing more than Brown.
Adrian Kempe has managed to put up nine points (5+4=9) despite not having consistent linemates, playing anywhere from the first to third lines. He is currently on pace for 46 points, which would blow his current career-high of 37. After being sidelined for the first ten games of the season due to an undisclosed injury, Athanasiou has immediately started to produce. He has picked up five points (3+2=5) in his first six games thus far. These numbers are extremely promising and have earned him a spot on the Kings’ second line alongside Alex Iafallo and Phil Danault.
As of right now, it looks like the top line will consist of Kempe, Anže Kopitar, And Arvidsson. With the second line of Alex Iafallo, Danault, and Athanasiou already demonstrating a certain level of chemistry, it appears that Brown will slot in on the third line aside a recently-healthy Andersson and rookie Rasmus Kupari. While this seems like a major demotion for a potential hall of fame player and Kings legend, it is actually an opportunity for him.
Brown has had an amazing career with the Kings: he led the team to two Stanley Cups while offering offensive ability and unique physicality. After the Cup years, his offensive production has been streaky throughout. Right now, it happens to be at a lower point, but one thing that has not wavered is his physicality. He continues to impress with big, clean hits at even bigger moments. Until now, his physical play had been making up for his lack of offense on the top line. Earlier this month, he had a huge overtime hit on Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki that allowed the Kings to regain possession in a key moment. It eventually resulted in the Kings scoring an overtime goal. This demonstrated that, without being the one to put points on the board, Brown can still be a productive member of the team.
Brown is at an age where he should be enjoying the twilight years of his career. He has earned the right to not have to worry about putting up first-line caliber offensive numbers. To some fans, it may be a disappointment to not see him playing on the same line as Kopitar. This is not, however, the first time the dynamic duo has been separated. Just before the team went on their 2012 Cup run, then-head coach Daryl Sutter called them “stale” together, and they were split up throughout the 2017-18 season (from ‘Switching Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to different lines has helped Kings, who have won two in a row,’ Los Angeles Times, Jan. 31, 2018). Even though they have separated in the past, they have always found their way back together, and the same could easily occur once again. In addition, it is more than likely that McLellan will reunite them on the power play, so they will still get to play together.
Playing on the third line will give Brown the unique opportunity to play with some younger players, namely Andersson and Kupari. He can employ his biggest strength, his physicality, to give his smaller linemates some more space to be creative offensively. In addition, as an 18 year NHL veteran, he has a lot of wisdom to impart on them as they find their footing in the NHL. This is not something he would be able to do as much if he were still on the first line because he would be playing with established NHL players: his leadership skills will be even more valuable on the third line.
Overall, Brown has the opportunity to rebuild some confidence on the third line and, potentially, develop some chemistry with his new linemates. If all goes well, he may even manage to earn his way back to the top spot where he can be reunited with Kopitar. In the process, he will be able to showcase his physicality and leadership skills, all exemplifying that playing on the third line is an opportunity for the veteran Brown.
As a native Angeleno, Katie Nash is a life-long Kings fan and experienced amateur hockey journalist. She is excited to provide her perspective through covering the Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Follow her on instagram @la.kings.hockey.