Word came back on Dustin Brown this afternoon, and no, it was not good. Playing in his final exhibition on Saturday, Brown suffered a broken finger when he was struck by an Anze Kopitar shot while screening John Gibson late in the second period, a punctuation to a slog of a 1-6-1 preseason and another blow to the team’s forward corps. With Brown out indefinitely, as noted in a team release, Jonny Brodzinski out indefinitely after shoulder surgery, and Gabe Vilardi rehabilitating a back injury, three right wings who’d been penciled into the team’s lineup over the summer will be erased from the depth chart before the first game of the season. This is another unfortunate blow to a group that in recent seasons dealt with extended Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter absences, as well as a nagging Anze Kopitar arm issue that kept him from full strength for much of 2016-17.
This is Brown’s first major injury since his rookie season, when he dealt with ankle injuries as a 19-year-old in 2003-04. (He did undergo shoulder surgery in the 2018 off-season.) Other than the odd dings and scrapes, he’s been a remarkable model of health, having appeared in 207 consecutive games before missing a pair in December, 2016. He did not miss any games due to health reasons in 2017-18 and has missed only five of the Kings’ last 786 games due to illness or injury, dating back to the beginning of the 2008-09 season.
This injury throws what was shaping up to be a pretty balanced top-nine out of whack for the start of the season. After recalibrating during the second intermission, John Stevens sent these forward groups out for five-on-five faceoffs that did not follow icings: Wagner-Kopitar-Kovalchuk, Kempe-Carter-Toffoli, Iafallo-Anderson-Dolan-Lewis, Wagner-Anderson-Dolan-Lewis, Pearson-Carter-Toffoli, Pearson-Carter-Lewis and Wagner-Kempe-Toffoli. There’s fortunately some flexibility afforded by Kovalchuk, who can play both the left and right sides, Kempe, who can play center and wing, and Lewis, who can play virtually anywhere.
As for a spot on the roster, Anderson-Dolan and Wagner both just became a little bit more secure. Matt Luff will also be a player who will draw some additional consideration. I also wrote this about Emerson Etem yesterday, before Brown’s injury:
I’m not expecting Emerson Etem to sign a one-year, one-way contract, and I don’t have an indication that he’d come to terms on either a two-way or AHL contract. He’ll meet with the team today to discuss what their options are moving forward. From the team’s perspective, they’ve had some success signing players on PTOs – see: Devin Setoguchi and Brooks Laich – and may pitch a similar arrangement to Laich’s in which Etem could stay with the club for a continued look. (I have no indication that Etem would agree to that type of arrangement.) Etem is a veteran with significant Stanley Cup Playoffs experience and has shown his trademark speed during camp, as well as a finishing ability that has netted two goals.
Etem is still in the conversation after the injury. The team is “exploring different options with Etem,” according to hockey operations, so there’s something to keep an eye on tomorrow. I don’t have any indication what type of contract or arrangements are currently being discussed, but he’s looking like a figure to follow over the next day or two. No roster moves are expected today, per the Kings, who are holding an off-ice workout and are not practicing tomorrow. They’ll next take the ice at Toyota Sports Center at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday in advance of their season-opener Friday night at home against San Jose.
NHL rosters must be submitted by 2:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday. Prior to the Brown injury, the Kings were making the final touches on a 22-man roster featuring 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
-Lead photo via Juan Ocampo/NHLI