The Los Angeles Kings
are a young team and they figure to get much better as they mature. It was with that thought in mind that coach Terry Murray
named Dustin Brown
captain at the start of this season. Anze Kopitar
, 21, and Matt Greene
, 25, were named alternate captains.
"Dustin has impressed me a great deal with his leadership," said Murray. "He comes to the rink each day prepared and his on-ice work shows a great deal of focus. He has total commitment to this team."
NHL Network will profile Brown Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET as part of the Captains Driven By Bridgestone series.
Brown, 24, became the youngest captain in Kings history. Brown never has lacked maturity or intelligence. A member of the 2001 Ontario Hockey League All-Rookie Team, Brown went on to become the 2003 Canadian Major Junior Scholastic Player of the Year.
The Kings' first pick (No. 13) in the 2003 Entry Draft, Brown is in his fifth NHL season, and has 89 goals and 103 assists in 339 NHL games.
Brown said he has had extensive talks about leadership with Murray.
"Terry said the captain bridges the gap between players and coaches," Brown said. "We're getting feedback on how the team plays day to day. I haven't had too many in-depth conversations with (General Manager) Dean Lombardi. Those conversations have been more about learning things, different ways to be a better captain. I try to improve on that every day. I have an open conversation with Terry Murray
throughout the season about the team and also about my play."
Brown said he knows there will be times he needs to confront a teammate about an issue, be it an on-ice of off-ice matter, before it becomes necessary for the coach to confront the player.
"I've had conversations with a few players, not necessarily about their play, more like shooting ideas off of them," Brown said. "The things that have been going on this year have been normal team things. It's good to get a different perspective from different people. Sometimes things need to be said to the team. I've done that a few times. If I think it's necessary, I'll pull someone aside, but that doesn't happen too often on this team."
The Kings have been a fairly consistent squad for most of the season, hovering around the .500 mark. Helping his teammates stay focused is part of the captain's responsibility, Brown said.
"The key for us is trying to get that message across on a day-by-day basis," Brown said. "We can't look at the standings because there are too many teams involved. So we have to focus on each period and each shift. Just worry about the next shift. That's the only way we are going to see progress. We can't look too far down the road. There is so much going on in the League, we can only worry about ourselves and do everything we can to be there at the end of the day."
Brown is encouraged by the record Lombardi achieved when he was GM of the San Jose Sharks
and produced seven straight seasons of improved results. Lombardi's work can still be seen on the roster of the Pacific Division leaders. He realizes the challenges are greater now than in the late 1990s and early part of this decade.
"There's a lot more that goes into it now with the salary cap," Brown said. "I look at the young core of this team and see we are making the right steps toward being a good team. The draft is a big part of it. He's building the right way."
The Kings have some impressive talent with the Manchester Monarchs, their American Hockey League affiliate, including goalie Jonathan Bernier
, right wing Trevor Lewis
and defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov
"We had a chance to see them in camp and Teddy Purcell
has been up a couple of times," Brown said. "We got an idea from him about how people are doing there. This is their time to grow and become better players before the get to the NHL. Look at our call-ups this season. They've played well. Manchester is doing a good job of developing our players."
The most frustrating aspect to the Kings' season has been the inability to finish a win. Too many times, the Kings have been caught in the late stages of a game and coughed up a win. It has happened against some of the best teams in the NHL. They played even with the Flyers in Philadelphia on Feb. 25 before giving up a late second-period goal to Jeff Carter
and then an empty-netter. Brown knows they could have won that game with a bit of luck, a little more effort or more confidence.
"If there is one word that sums up this year's team it would be 'close,'" Brown said. "We're always in the game, always close, and then we fall short. That's a learning experience and it will take care of itself down the road. We've been in three or four games with division leaders where we were down a goal and they've scored in the last minute.
"We need to develop another aspect to our game -- getting a lead and then shutting the opponent down from there. That will take time to learn as a team. It's a team concept and a matter of everyone coming together and understanding what needs to be done."
Brown is very unusual among American players in that he went from playing for his high school team in Ithaca, N.Y., to the OHL's Guelph Storm and then straight to the NHL for the 2003-04 season. He played in Manchester during the 2004-05 work stoppage, and then returned to the Kings.
Brown was told there weren't many Americans outside Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts who have made it to the NHL after playing local high school hockey.
"I played hometown bantams and high school in eighth and ninth grade. The next year I split the season with the Syracuse Stars and my high school team before leaving for the OHL," Brown said.
He knows he's under consideration for Team USA for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and he's hoping for a chance to play.
"I know what international play is all about because I played in the World Juniors and the World Championship. But the Olympics are a whole different thing. This is a very important Olympics for us and I'm sure we'll look to put a solid team together. I hope I'm part of it." -- Dustin Brown
"They only have the Olympics every four years so it would be a privilege to play for my country and be part of the Olympics," Brown said. "I know what international play is all about because I played in the World Juniors and the World Championship. But the Olympics are a whole different thing. This is a very important Olympics for us and I'm sure we'll look to put a solid team together. I hope I'm part of it."
While Brown tries to perform at his optimal level in the NHL and provide leadership to his teammates, he's been fighting to maintain his own focus in the wake of his newborn son's issues. His wife, Nicole, gave birth to Mason on Feb. 23 at 31 weeks. The boy remains hospitalized, but Brown said all signs are pointing the right way.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's been on my mind since it happened and I can't forget it on the ice," Brown said. "Overall he's doing well. I just got off the phone with Nicole, and he's doing better health-wise. He's learning to eat out of the bottle and we're hoping he'll be able to come home in two or three weeks. That will make it easier on my wife."