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2018-19 Season Rewind: Josh Brown

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2018-19 Season Rewind: Josh Brown

2018-19 Season Rewind: Josh Brown

Catch the 2018-19 season highlights of Florida Panthers defenseman Josh Brown

  • 02:10 •

Josh Brown's path to the NHL was anything but a straight line.

Prior to making his long-awaited NHL debut with the Florida Panthers on Jan. 18, the 25-year-old defenseman had paid more than his fair share of dues. A sixth-round pick (152nd overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, he had to spend more than three full seasons perfecting his craft down in the minors, including a 54-game stint in the ECHL during his first full pro campaign in 2015-16.

But after finally arriving to South Florida, he ended up becoming not only a feel-good story, but also one of this season's biggest surprises. Using his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and defense-first approach to the game, he carved out a regular spot for himself on the blue line, finishing his first tour around the league with one goal, one assist, 31 blocked shots and 80 hits in 37 games.

"I think it was a pretty big success, obviously, for my part," Brown told FloridaPanthers.com. "I'd been working away those last few years in the AHL, so to get the call-up finally was great. But then to continue to play night in, night out in the lineup for the rest of the season was incredible. I'm glad I got to show my stuff a bit. From what I think, everyone was pretty happy with me."

Following his debut, Brown knew his spot wasn't guaranteed. As the team's sixth defenseman, he was in a constant competition for playing time and knew that a bad game or string of losses could land him in the press box at any moment. But, game after game, he arrived the rink and saw his name back on the lineup sheet. One game turned to two. Two turned to 10. And so on.

By the time the season ended, Brown had had suited up in 37 consecutive games.

"After a loss or two, for a guy in my situation, you wonder to yourself, 'Oh, maybe it's my time to sit,'" Brown said. "I know how it goes. I did it at the junior level and in my first couple years pro. You're kind of in and out. But obviously they had some faith in me. Sometimes I'd coming in thinking, 'It's got to be me today.' We had a lot of great defensemen battling for ice time in different spots. I didn't want to get too comfortable with it. I always had that bit of hope, though."

When asked at the immediate success he found with the Panthers, Brown gave a lot of credit to the coaching staff working for the club's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, for helping him be fully prepared for what he described as yet "another big jump" in his promising career.

In 170 career AHL games, Brown registered eight goals and 31 assists.

"I think they did a good job of getting me ready for that next step," said Brown, who gave added kudos to the work put in by Thunderbirds head coach Geordie Kinnear. "You can prepare all you want, but once you get up there, it's the NHL. You're going up against the best players in the world. There was still a bit of a learning curve, but I felt like I'd been ready for that moment."

In discussing that learning curve, Brown admitted that he actually wasn't overwhelmed when he first slotted into the lineup. Working on the bottom pairing, he would typically go up against the opposition's third and fourth lines on most nights, which helped with his adjustment to the NHL.

"I know I can play against those guys," Brown said confidently. "A lot of their roles is just getting into the zone, laying the body and being physical. That works for me because I like to play physical, too. It was really kind of nice to get my feet wet against those lines, for sure."

The real test came on the penalty kill.

Given an early shot on special teams, Brown took to the penalty kill instantly, using his lanky appendages to clog up passing lanes and disrupt plays in the slot and along the boards. In the 30:13 of ice time he spent shorthanded, opposing teams tallied only three power-play goals.

Most impressively, opponent's averaged just 13.18 high-danger shot attempts when Brown was deployed on the penalty kill - the best mark among Florida's regular penalty-killing defensemen.

"That's part of my game," Brown said. "I love doing the penalty kill. A lot of guys love being on the power play, but that was never really my area of expertise. I just tried to get as good as I can be on the penalty kill. I love doing it. It was really a lot of fun."

Heading into next season, Brown hopes to reclaim his newfound spot in the Panthers' starting lineup. That being said, he knows that it won't be handed to him. For although he achieved one of his lifelong dreams this season, he now has a new one - becoming a full-time NHL player.

"I don't think the mindset can change," Brown said. "Just because I played 37 games doesn't mean that I have a spot locked up by any means. I want to keep that mindset… 'The wolf's always scratching at the door,' as the cliché goes. There's always someone coming to take your place… I'm just going to take that onus onto myself and make sure that I'm working as hard as I can."

COOL STAT

As good as he was with his gloves on, Brown certainly didn't mind taking them off.

In an effort to make a big splash upon his arrival to the Panthers, he went toe-to-toe with San Jose Sharks blueliner Brandon Dillion, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound giant, in just his third NHL game. Putting his offseason boxing training to use, Brown ended up on top in the heavyweight bout.

According to HockeyFights.com, 81.1 percent of voters who saw the fight gave Brown the W.

Watch: Youtube Video

Bringing a physical presence to each of his shifts, Brown managed to finish tied for the most fighting majors on the Panthers this season (4), despite taking the ice for only 37 contests.

"I think it was important for me to show what I can do," Brown said of his willingness to brawl. "I think that first week I was playing I wanted to make sure that I mixed it up a little bit to let the guys know that I play that style and that I'm not going to back down. I think those years in the AHL helped me out with that… I didn't want to take too much time to introduce myself to the league, I guess you could say."

BEST GAME

In just the seventh game of his NHL career, Brown was cast into the penalty-killing fire.

A mere 17 seconds into the second period of a heated matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 7 at BB&T Center, Brown was sent onto the ice to help the Panthers survive a minute of a potentially disastrous 5-on-3 disadvantage against one of the top power-play units in the NHL.

Keeping the crease clean, he not only helped kill off the 5-on-3 attempt, but also stayed on the ice to chip away quite a bit of Pittsburgh's remaining time on the 5-on-4, keeping Florida's 1-0 lead intact. Thanks in part to a perfect night from their PK, the Panthers won 3-2 in overtime.

Video: Matheson's OT winner propels Panthers past Pens, 3-2

"That was a pretty big one," Brown recalled. "There were a couple of blocks, a couple of good plays by the guys. That was definitely pretty nerve-wracking. Power plays have some of the most-skilled players in the world, and I hadn't really had a chance to play against them yet."

GOAL OF THE YEAR

Brown doesn't consider himself a goal-scorer, but that didn't make his first any less sweet.

Taking a pass from Troy Brouwer, Brown glided toward the high slot before letting loose a wrist shot that navigated its way through traffic and into the net to break the ice and put the Panthers ahead 1-0 early in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at BB&T Center on March 10.

Video: DET@FLA: Brown opens scoring with first NHL goal

"It was incredible," said Brown, whose inaugural goal came 24 games into his NHL career. "Like you said, I definitely have more a defensive mindset, so I didn't know if it was going to happen this season or whenever. I'm just thrilled and relieved that I got it out of the way."

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