The simplest answer is usually the best one.
The Los Angeles Kings have a core group of younger players that have led the team from the nadir of the 2006-07 season’s 27-41-14 record to the past two seasons’ playoff participation. The team did not win a series either year, but the trend line has certainly gone the right direction.
One of the core players of the resurgent Kings franchise is 26-year old right winger Dustin Brown.
Selected 13th overall in 2003, Brown has arguably lived up to what was expected of him as a power forward taken that high in the draft. He has the 7th highest number of goals of any player from his class, ranks 10th in total points, and has demonstrated sufficient leadership capacity to have been named the Kings’ captain at the start of the 2008-09 season. He plays in all situations and is generally considered to be a solid two-way player.
Oh, there’s one more thing: the man has an on-ice hobby. Check out the video compilation below and you’ll see exactly what I mean:
Brown is perennially amongst the NHL’s hits leaders. In 2010-11, he finished third in the league with an even 300. As demonstrated in the video, many were of the bone-crunching variety.
For all of his positive traits, Brown has been something of a polarizing figure amongst die-hard Kings fans. Peruse the popular fan message board www.letsgokings.com for ten minutes and you’re bound to find individual posts or full threads all but imploring management to relieve him of the “C” and/or demote him to the third line — four seasons of 24+ goals/50+ points notwithstanding.
So what’s wrong with Dustin Brown?
One consideration is the grass-is-greener argument. The 2003 draft was chock full of hockey man-crush goodliness, including M.A. Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber and Joe Pavelski. Everyone from Seabrook on was available at the time the Kings zeroed in on Brown, which leads to the inevitable what-if-we-had-selected-Getzlaf revisionist history theories.
Another factor is his streakiness. Brown may have potted 28 last year, but he had an eleven game stretch from mid-February until mid-March where he had just one goal. Take out a two-goal game on February 17th, and the streak was actually far worse: three goals in 33 games. Far from a natural goal scorer, Brown is still depended on for offense on a team that desperately needs it. The effort may be there, but the results are all over the map.
A third consideration is his personality, to which some might say what personality?
Dustin Brown is a lead-by-example player. Rarely does he become overly vocal on ice, nor does he often drop the gloves. As a result, he draws far more penalties than he takes (just 67 PIM’s last year, the second highest total of his career), which inevitably provides a statistical net positive in terms of goals scores/goals against. However, the memories of Adam Deadmarsh duking it out with Ed Jovanovski — not to mention taunting the entire Detroit Red Wings bench during the 2000-01 playoffs — are still fresh in the minds of Kings fans hungering for toughness and in-your-face leadership. Brown’s leadership skills do not roll that way, generally to the chagrin of those dissecting the team’s needs.
That being said, there is a definitive on-ice characteristic that Dustin Brown’s game is particularly well suited for, and when he strays from that baseline, his overall game suffers: net presence.
Brown is most effective as a pure north-south player. He has strong skating skills, good speed, generates terrific leverage and although balance is not his strong suit, he nevertheless plays well when camped within six feet of the net. His hands are not those of an elite player, but he is underrated in that area. His instincts with respect to screening goalies, redirecting pucks and pouncing on rebounds are those of an upper-tier power forward. He struggles in a puckhandler and sniper role for the simple reasons that he’s neither a good puckhandler nor a sniper.
The general consensus amongst Kings fans is that Dustin Brown focused on a north-south style over the final fifteen games of the 2010-11 regular season. That emphasis led to seven goals and six assists during that span, his second-best stretch of games for the entire season. Always a streaky player, it likely was at least in part due to that factor, but the anecdotal evidence demonstrated a lot of good things within Brown’s game during that span. The fan frustration has always stemmed from his inability to replicate that style over a full season.
For the Kings to take the next step, Dustin Brown must do so as well. He has settled into a solid second-line NHL right winger who scores nearly 30 goals a season, kills penalties, plays a sound two-way game and hits like a runaway freight train. However, his patented toe-drag move and slot wristers into the chest of the opposing goalie have Kings fans looking to the sky in frustration. Brown does not have the skill to perform those moves successfully on a regular basis. He does have all the tools to directly affect the outcome of a game with a linear, north-south style and discipline around the net.
As important as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick are to the success of the Kings, it may well be that the simple answer is the one that unlocks playoff success for Los Angeles. Simplify Dustin Brown’s game into a linear one and allow him to camp near the opposing net as much as possible.
The simplest answer is usually the best one. Let Kopitar and company do the fancy stuff with the puck. Brown can do a lot of good things for Los Angeles if he hangs a poster of Tomas Holmstrom on his wall and stares at it every night before he goes to bed. Word of advice, Dustin: don’t take on Ed Jovanovski, though. He broke Adam Deadmarsh’s jaw.