Dustin Brown has been a staple in the Los Angeles Kings’ lineup for 16 seasons. In that time, there have been many ups and downs, but he has always been a leader, as well as a physical force to be reckoned with. While his 2021-22 season did not start off too well, and a finger injury sidelined him for a month, he has returned looking reinvigorated since then. Here is a breakdown of his recent return.
Brown’s Return to the Lineup
When players return from injury, especially from a long-term absence, it usually takes a couple of games for them to return to form. Brown has not done this. He has drastically improved from the way he was playing before his injury, considering in three games back, he has recorded three points on one goal and two assists.
Brown returned to the lineup for the Kings’ April 12 matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. Going into the game, they were on a three-game losing streak, and it was a must-win situation. Brown, as he has done many times over his career, rose to the occasion. He picked up two key assists, including one on the eventual game-winner, en route to a 5-2 victory. In another must-win game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he scored an early goal on a heads-up play to set the tone for the rest of the game. The Kings went on to win 2-1.
While three games is a small sample size, this uptick in production is vital to a Kings team that is fighting for a playoff spot. This type of veteran leadership is exactly what the team needs as it looks to take the next step in its rebuild, and return to playoff hockey for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
The “Time Off”
Brown was injured during the Kings’ March 12 loss against the San Jose Sharks, which was another blow amidst a team-wide injury streak. Losing him was so much more than losing a player — it was losing a huge part of the leadership core, too. Nevertheless, he was never too far away from the team. As far as long-term injuries go, he was pretty fortunate to injure just his finger, because he could still skate while he recovered.
Instead of simply sitting around waiting to heal, Brown had the opportunity to stay in shape while also resting during his rehab. As an older player, this is key because it is sometimes more difficult for veterans with lower-body injuries to return to game shape after extended absences. The Kings needed him to be playing at 100 percent and he has done just that so far.
Brown’s New Role
Kings head coach Todd McLellan slotted Brown into a bottom-six role upon his return, and while this may appear to be a demotion for the former first liner, at his age, this type of role simply makes more sense. With less ice time, he is more rested and able to sustain his highly-physical style of play for a full 60 minutes.
Brown has been in and out of the bottom-six throughout the season, but it appears as if McLellan is committed to keeping him in this third-line role for the duration of the season. As the team looks to hold onto their playoff spot in the Pacific Division, he has the opportunity to showcase his leadership and playmaking abilities in this new role.
Brown’s Next Steps
The playoff race is tight and, even if the Kings hold onto their spot, they are not quite ready to contend for the Stanley Cup. They may, however, be in a far more competitive position as soon as next season. Brown’s contract ends following this season, and he has not signaled any plans to retire. In all likelihood, he will sign a one-year deal to make one last run with the team he has called home his entire career.
As a whole, this season has not been Brown’s best. Since returning from this recent injury, he has shown his ability to bounce back and play in a new role. If he is brought back for next season, the team will look for him to continue to shine in the bottom six. Even if he cannot maintain his current production, his leadership is still invaluable to a team that is brimming with young talent. If the Kings were able to emerge as a legitimate contender next season, it could cap off Brown’s already decorated career.
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.