The hits keep coming for the Kings and the regular season hasn’t even started yet.
Dustin Brown left last night’s final pre-season game late in the third period during a Kings power play and didn’t return. Based off of the broadcast, it looked like Brown took a puck to the hand.
The team confirmed the injury today, stating that Brown has a broken finger and will be out indefinitely. That’s a big loss not only for the team, but for Brown himself, who, despite his physical style of play, has proven to be incredibly durable over his 13-season NHL career. In fact, Brown has never missed more than four games in a season.
Long subject to criticism for his play not matching up to his cap hit, Brown had a breakout 2017-18 season, recording a career high in assists (33) and total points (61). With a hand injury that’s going to keep him out for an undetermined amount of time, he likely won’t get the chance to show that last season wasn’t just a very happy anomaly.
In Brown’s absence, John Stevens was forced to mix up the lines, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli, and Austin Wagner all seeing time with Anze Kopitar. The Kings have a handful of options at right wing. Austin Wagner, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Emerson Etem have all played on the right wing throughout the pre-season, albeit none spent any extensive time with Kopitar yet. Matt Luff, who didn’t play in the final pre-season game but remained with the team after their trip to Las Vegas, could also get an extended look in practice before the season starts. For a more experienced presence, Tyler Toffoli has played there in the past, though with limited success.
With the trio of Iafallo/Kopitar/Brown being the only real consistent line the Kings have had this pre-season, Brown’s absence creates another hole in a lineup already thin at right wing. Jonny Brodzinski recently underwent shoulder surgery after being injured in Vancouver, and Gabe Vilardi’s ongoing back issues have removed him as an option, as Vilardi had been penciled in to start his pro career at wing. Throughout the pre-season, the Kings have struggled to find much chemistry, so the few days of practice they’ll get in before starting the season on Friday will be crucial to find the right lineup.
This is the third season in a row that the Kings have been without a major player at the start of the season. 2017-18 saw an early season leg injury to Jeff Carter wipe out most of his season; 2016-17 featured Jonathan Quick’s long term injury, as well as Marian Gaborik missing nearly two months, and Anze Kopitar dealing with various injuries that hampered his performance.