Dustin Brown is still a key member of the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s only gotten more true since the Vegas Golden Knights passed him up in the expansion draft, and since the Kings added only one winger via free agency over the offseason. That’s also a reason LA is being dismissed by so many as a serious contender. Around the league (or at least among its fans), Brown has become a bit of a punchline due to his contract and his lack of production, and he’s been a convenient face for the Kings’ recent struggles. The 32-year-old forward isn’t going anywhere, and he’s not getting back to the level he was at five years ago, so why should anyone expect anything from a team that puts so much weight on a guy who’s past his prime?
A lot of people have forgotten a lot about Dustin Brown, and more importantly, they haven’t learned anything new about the 32-year-old forward since... oh, 2013 or so, when Brown inked that eight-year extension. (With the exception of “Dustin Brown is bad and his contract is bad,” which is WAY more black-and-white than I prefer to go.) Is there any hope for a return to form?
The most optimistic sign for Brown was his scoring total last season, as his three-season run of getting 27-28 points ended with a reasonably solid 36 points. Even better, 26 of those points were at even strength. Brown’s scoring drop-off looks especially precipitous due to a major decrease in power play production, and he’s received half as much PP time in the last four years as he did in the four before. So that even strength production is crucial, and last year’s 5v5 output was just five points below 2011-12, and ten points below his career high. One issue, though: 11 of those points were secondary assists. His primary points per 60 minutes (which includes goals and primary, or “first,” assists) actually dropped to a career low.
Maybe Brown deserved some of that secondary assist love, though. Brown’s Expected Goals For % (an on-ice total which shows how many goals are expected to be scored/allowed, based on shot volume and location) has hovered around the team average, but in the last two seasons the actual on-ice Goals For % has been hideously bad. This year Brown got some bounces and some second assists, and the team’s results were more in line with what he deserved based on the balance of shots and scoring chances.
Brown’s even strength time on ice has been lower since he signed his extension, with the aforementioned drop in PP chances being complemented by a minute or so removed from his average 5v5 time on ice. He’s also seen a huge decrease in ice time with Anze Kopitar, as Darryl Sutter began using Brown on the third line quite often after Marian Gaborik’s arrival. This season, it appears Brown will start the year with Kopitar, and though there’s an argument that they’re better off without each other, that could help.
This is a preview article, though, and all of this won’t tell us much about this year’s Dustin Brown if this is a different Dustin Brown. If you listen to John Stevens, it is:
He feels good physically, he came in ready to go, he’s skating really well, he’s got more of a north-south attitude in his game where he’s really challenging teams with his speed, he’s getting in on the forecheck. He’s good in all situations. He’s good on the power play, he’s creating some good looks offensively for us. He’s in and around the net a lot, and I think that’s the game that we’re hoping to see from Brownie.
And if you go off his preseason, well, it might be! He provided a pitch-perfect screen on a Drew Doughty power play tally, he looks spry, and Stevens didn’t lie: his usual go-wide-of-the-defenseman move was less apparent as he made efforts to get to the net.
Brown! Crossbar! He made a nice move to get to the middle of the ice! It was pretty good! I'm in optimistic preseason mode!— Jewels from the (@JFTC_Kings) September 29, 2017
Getting the puck into the zone has remained a strength of Brown’s game, and if Brown does have a strong campaign, using that strength to generate better opportunities will be a hallmark. I’m not expecting a huge jump (if any jump at all) in Brown’s offensive output unless he gets a heavy dose of power play time, but the Kings will need him to be at least as adequate as he was last year. If he gets time with Kopitar he’ll have to be, and the early preseason optimism will have to prove valid.