It didn’t matter that forward JT Brown played just a handful of games in the NHL this past season.
The experience, he said, “was invaluable.”
And it is showing too.
Brown, 22, has been one of the standouts at camp thus far.
Signed as a free agent at the tail end of last season, the former University of Minnesota-Duluth standout registered just one assist in his five games with the Lightning, but displayed an efficient combination of both speed and grit while playing on a line alongside Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone.
He also finished the regular season with a plus-2 rating, a testament to his defensive awareness, and exhibited strong hockey instincts that generated rave reviews from Bolts head coach Guy Boucher.
This week at camp, Brown is using that experience to his advantage.
“Any time you can compete at the highest level, it’s going to help improve your game,” Brown said. “I saw how fast the NHL was, and it served as a good gauge for me in terms of what to work on in the summer, so I definitely came into camp this week feeling a little more prepared.”
Of the 30 prospects participating in the team’s Development Camp this week, Brown’s appearance is among the most anticipated.
He is the only attendee with any NHL experience under his belt, but as general manager Steve Yzerman would attest, there is no added pressure for Brown, or any others for that matter, to perform well ahead of the other participants.
“I don’t know if there’s pressure, but there certainly is added attention,” Yzerman said. “Those are the guys who everyone is looking for. There comes added attention, but not so much pressure, because once the draft is over, they’re the same as anyone else.”
JT Brown watches as coach Jon Cooper explains the next drill on Monday at Development Camp.
While that may hold true for now, it will be a lost thought once the team’s official training camp gets underway in September. Yzerman has expressed interest in the possibility of keeping one or two forward spots up for grabs for players within the organization to attain, a group of which Brown is certainly a part.
That, perhaps, is when Brown’s NHL experience will prove most useful, as it could set him apart from those whose experience thus far has been limited to the American Hockey League or the collegiate ranks.
“He’s going to have a lot of competition in September with Brett Connolly and Cory Conacher, but he’s a young guy who is all about the team,” Yzerman added. “We were extremely pleased with how he played in his five games with us and I had a chance to watch him at the World Championships as well, and his skating is at a very high level, he’s very smart and he has really good skills. We believe he’s an NHL player.”
As far as Brown is concerned, he is already slightly ahead of the pack.