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Brown maturing on and off the ice for Kings

by Mel Bridgman
Starting his fifth season with the Los Angeles Kings, Dustin Brown will play an important role in the team's leadership this season. His style of play, both as a scorer and as a physical player, has earned him respect within his dressing room and around the League.

Last season, Brown led the Kings with 33 goals, was third with 60 points, and led the NHL with 311 hits. But he was a minus-13, and again watched the playoffs on television. That's why Brown has embraced the emphasis placed on defense by new coach Terry Murray. And it's his willingness to do what it takes to succeed in all three zones that has earned him consideration to replace the departed Rob Blake as team captain.

"As a team, we need to cut back on primary scoring chances against us," Murray said. "There is going to be a big push this training camp and in the future to focus on becoming a better checking team."

An emphasis on team play is something Brown relishes.

"Individual play seemed more important than accountability," Brown said of past Kings teams. "The responsibility was not here in the past. The younger players, like myself, have been focused on our development rather than responsibility and accountability.

"I think our offense will take care of itself. We need to take care of our own end. I think this season there will be more attention to detail on our defensive game. We will have specific guidelines within our defensive zone. I think the players will be very accepting of improving our defensive game. We all want to win."

Murray already has been impressed with what he's seen from Brown.

"Dustin plays the game the right way," he said. "He plays hard and instinctively positions himself in front of the net. Dustin is a very intelligent player. He has to be to play with an elite player like Anze (Kopitar) and be able to read him during play."

Former Kings assistant coach Dave Lewis was the first person to talk to Brown about focusing on his own end.

"Dave Lewis told Anze and I the importance of defensive hockey," Brown said. "He explained the two best offensive forwards on the Detroit Red Wings were also two of the best defensive forwards in the National Hockey League,"  meaning Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

The Kings, though, could look more like a team farther east than Detroit, namely the Philadelphia Flyers. Murray, General Manager Dean Lombardi and Assistant GM Ron Hextall all spent time in Philadelphia in a variety of roles -- Murray was a player and coach; Lombardi was a pro scout before joining the Kings; Hextall was a long-time player and scout before going west with Lombardi.

Despite the links, don't look for the Kings to become a West Coast version of the Broad Street Bullies. Instead, there should be a similar emphasis on attention to detail, innovation and hard work.

Brown is more of a prototypical Flyer than any other player on the Kings roster, combining a physical style of play with an elite sense of the game. That was evident in his debut as a 19-year-old rookie, months after being selected by the Kings at No. 13 in the 2003 Entry Draft. But injuries limited him to just 5 points in 31 games, and also sapped his confidence.

"My first year was difficult," Brown said. "I was injured and injured players reported early in the morning and were gone before the team arrived in the locker room. Sometimes I didn't see some players for weeks. That made it tough, plus I was probably four years younger than any of the other players. I really didn't have anyone my own age to hang out with."

Playing with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate, during the 2004-05 work stoppage, Brown regained his touch by scoring 29 goals and 74 points in 79 games. He continued to develop in his next two seasons with the Kings, scoring 14 and 17 goals, respectively, in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Last season, though, was his breakout campaign.

"He keeps his feet moving and has great lateral movement," said Nelson Emerson, who spent the last two seasons as a Kings assistant coach. "He shoots in stride and defensemen have to be afraid he will take them wide and has his strength to get around them. This gives him space."

Brown credits his development on the ice to what he does off the ice.

"I watched a lot of game film and I think this has helped my development," he said.

That kind of maturity is just what Murray and Lombardi could be looking for in their club's next captain. As a former captain of the Flyers (1979-81) and Devils (1984-87), I was so impressed with Brown's maturity and command of the game that I have no doubt he one day will be an NHL captain. He is smart, hard-working, tough and skilled, but most of all he is a team player.

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