The “quiet leader” saluted by other 2003 draft greats; magic tricks, game-changing hits and accountability

When a player has played over 1,100 NHL games, there aren’t too many secrets about them. Tonight will be Dustin Brown’s 59th career game against Vancouver. He’s also faced Anaheim 80 times, San Jose 79 and Arizona 78, and has appeared in eight combined playoff series against those four teams.

So it wasn’t expected that we’d learn something new about the player who will become the franchise’s all-time games played leader when lineup cards are submitted prior to tonight’s game against Vancouver. “Brownie was just the quiet guy. He went in and went about his thing,” Jeff Carter said about Brown, whom he became familiar with in the OHL and the lead-up to the 2003 NHL Draft. “He always did magic tricks back then. I don’t know if he’s ever told you guys, but we’d get on the bus and he’d pull out some magic tricks.”

Such “magic” included the sleight-of-hand card tricks he picked up while killing time on buses across the Ontario Hockey League. In an era where there may be controversy over excess Fortnite gameplay, Brown and the rest of the 2003 draft class came from an era that did not come of age holding a handheld device.

“Being bored on a bus, you learn a lot,” Brown said. “I did it at World Juniors one year. James Wisniewski, I did a card trick to him, and he lost it. It was a good trick. I had accomplices. It was just a time – in juniors, you ride the bus a lot, and you’ve got to fill the time with something, and card tricks, I haven’t done it in years. It’s probably something if I put some time into it for a couple months, I could probably get back there pretty quickly.”

To Carter’s disappointment, Brown hasn’t had a great deal of time to reprise his role as team magician. It’s partly because he hasn’t spent much time away from the ice or in periods of extensive down time, given his renowned game preparation and durability. Entering this season, he’d missed only five of the team’s previous 704 games due to illness or injury, a major reason that out of the 292 players selected in 2003, he ranks second with 1,111 games played, trailing only Eric Staal, who has played 1,169.

Tonight, he’ll suit up in the 1,112th game of his career, surpassing Dave Taylor’s franchise record, established from 1977-94.

“I think I’m just one part of a really good group of guys that have been here for a long time,” Brown said. “I know we’re not having the year that we want this year, but I think a lot of my success is a big part of the players I was able to play with throughout my career here. I learned a lot when I was younger. When I was just coming in, I had a lot of older, veteran guys that were really good for me. And then I kind of go through the leadership phase and on the back side of that, try to help younger guys figure out the game. I think I’ve just been here a long time, that’s all.”

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

He skated on a line with Ziggy Palffy and Jozef Stumpel in his first NHL game in Detroit on October 9, 2003, a night he faced Hall of Famers Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman and future inductees Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. He jokes that Palffy and Stumpel kept feeding him the puck that night – though he had a hard time hitting the net. One night later he suited up for his first win, a 3-0 blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins and fellow 2003 draftee Marc-Andre Fleury, who made his NHL debut, and on November 22 of that year, he earned his first career goal by beating David Aebischer off assists from Michael Cammalleri and Palffy. He’s the only active player remaining from that game.

Brown, who will turn 35 near the start of the 2019-20 season, still has more to give. He’s a back-to-back 20-goal scorer whose scoring rates over the past two seasons hadn’t been matched since his 18 goals in the truncated 2012-13 campaign.

It’s remarkable that he’s forged a career renaissance given the wear and tear of his 1,111 regular season and 85 playoff games and, of course, the nature of his north-south bowling ball game.

“I’ve always probably been physical, but as an 18-year-old, especially when I started to struggle scoring goals, it was just a mindset to find a way to have an impact on the game so you could stay in the lineup,” he said. “That was an avenue that suited my skill set and something that I could do night-in and night-out regardless of whether I was scoring goals or making plays. I could always be physical, especially during that time – the game was a lot slower, the hits were more available than they are now.”

And yet there’s no truancy whatsoever. The opposite of a training room regular, Brown, in his previous five seasons, suited up in 79, 82, 82, 80 and 81 games, and not all of those absences were injury-related. There have been illnesses and games in which his physical play crossed a line in the league’s eyes, but it practically takes a missing limb for him to come out of the lineup. It’s fitting, too, that he wore an ice bag around one leg while answering questions from reporters one week ago at Toyota Sports Center.

“The way he came in, and I look at the career he’s had, it’s pretty remarkable the way he’s played the game,” said Dion Phaneuf, selected ninth overall in 2003. “I have so much respect for him as a player and as a person and a teammate now getting to play with him. I just see how professional he is, how he does his job, day-to-day, and to see him have the longevity and the career that he’s had with the success – obviously winning the Cups – he’s a special player. I’m proud to be his teammate, and I’m proud to be able to see him work on the inside because it’s different when you play with someone. You’ve got a different camaraderie and you see how they go about their business day-to-day, and I can see why he’s played so long and had the success that he’s had. He’s a great teammate, a great player. You just look at how he came in. He was that physical power forward – he just hits so hard. I remember having a lot of battles with him, but I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and it’s great to see the career that he’s had.”

Brown wasn’t the only player drafted in 2003 that Phaneuf recalled battling with.

“I remember Ladd, Getzlaf – I fought both of them [in the WHL] and was teammates with both of ‘em at World Junior. It’s a different camaraderie. You’ve got so much respect for the guys, but you’ve obviously got a job to do when you’re playing against them.”

And there does appear to be that special camaraderie amongst the players selected in Nashville on June 21, the first round of the NHL Draft. Nine players – Brown, Phaneuf, Staal, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Suter, Brent Burns, Thomas Vanek, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Kesler – have already reached 1,000 games. Another 11 have reached the 900-game plateau. Only eight players selected in the first round that year failed to reach 600 games in the NHL.

“In any draft class you basically grow up with those guys,” Carter said. “Brownie was American, but he played in the OHL, so I played against him, I played all-star games with him. You do all that stuff. And then the Canadians, we grow up going through the Canadian program and all that stuff. It’s like Dion – I knew Dion from when we were 15 years old. You grow a bond. We play Anaheim, we see Getzy and Pears, two of my good buddies. It’s fun, and there are good hockey player that are still around from that class, so it’s been good.”

Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber were also selected in the second round, David Backes in the third, Joe Pavelski in the seventh and Dustin Byfuglien in the now-defunct eighth round.

“I was drafted 13th, and I’m, I don’t know, five, ten rows up, and the Kings table is maybe 30 feet away,” Brown said. “I remember the New York Rangers selected Hugh Jessiman right before me. As soon as they announced his name, Al Murray, who I think was the head scout at the time, he like pointed up to me. So I knew like three, four minutes before I was getting drafted that I was getting drafted [by the Kings].”

Taylor, then the general manager, didn’t have as much of an influence on Brown as the veterans on the 2003-04 team like Norstrom, Laperriere and Luc Robitaille. It was a different era of player management and the types of relationships Brown had with figures such as Dean Lombardi or Rob Blake, or even Robitaille as an executive were different from his relationship with Taylor after being drafted. “I mean, again, I was young, so I just put my head down and tried to work my ass off,” he said.

“I remember, the one thing I think they did was they found me like a billet family out here. I was so young and it was such a big change from where I grew up and being out here, all the way across the country, so I lived with a family for the first couple months of the year, just to get situated and comfortable and I think [Taylor] set that up. I only had, really, those two, three years with him. Like I said, as a younger guy, it’s a little different, you don’t have as many conversations with the GM.”

There are ample similarities between Brown and Taylor. They both played a physical, power forward role, they both served as captain before the organization made a change, they both produced and went about their business with a quiet intensity and had the utmost respect of their teammates.

Taylor also spent his entire career with the Kings, and Brown is the active leader of games played with one organization.

“It wasn’t a thing I knew coming in, but [Dave Taylor’s legacy] was something you definitely learned,” he said. “Just the way he carried himself – he had the respect of everybody of, ‘OK, I’m there for you,’ and that was something that kind of stood out, even to me as an 18-year-old.”

Both also had tremendous respect from those they battled against night in and night out.

“Yeah, there is respect,” said Corey Perry, selected 28th overall in 2003. “You could say I’m friends with a couple guys [on the Kings] and I’ve been to a few weddings on their side and they’ve been to mine. When you play a team in your career 80 times … you have a lot of battles when you’re on the ice and between the boards, but as soon as the puck drops and you get off the ice, yeah you’re going to say hi. I’ve been in this league a long time and became friends with a lot of guys.”

Noah Graham/NHLI

And in a serendipitous coincidence, he’ll break the record against the Vancouver Canucks, the team against whom he recorded the most emblematic hit of a physical career.

The hit on Henrik Sedin will remain one of the talismans of a career that will end with his numbers in the rafters and perhaps a statue outside Staples Center, but Brown also scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 home win over Vancouver that gave Los Angeles a stranglehold on their first round series against the Presidents Trophy winners.

He also recorded two shorthanded goals and an empty-net goal as part of 25 shots in the five-game series victory that served as the first chapter to the team’s postseason dominance earlier this decade.

“I know [winning the first Stanley Cup] was kind of anti-climactic in the sense that we were up 6-1 [Game 6 versus New Jersey], but it’s just the relief of an organization,” he said. “It reverberated out from that one game. The feeling you got being a part of the group, the first time to do it, is special. That’s something anybody who was on that team remembers. It’s just a first time for everything, right?”

Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI

Dustin Brown on being the franchise’s all-time leader in games played:
I mean, it’s something you never think of when you’re getting drafted, or when you’re playing. A lot of it, I’ve been durable and prepared, and then the other side is just luck. I’ve been playing with really good players for a long time and finding a way to stay relevant.

Brown, on whether Luc Robitaille mentored him in his early years with the Kings:
Yeah, he was one of the guys. I’d say Matty Norstrom, and especially Ian Laperierre, were pivotal for me, I think. Lappy especially because he was a forward. I’d come in to quite a different type of team, a different game, definitely more old school back then than it is now. I’d have to look at the roster, we didn’t have a very young roster, there wasn’t a cluster of young guys like we’ve had, or even a cluster of mid-range guys. It was a quite old team. I don’t know what the average was, but I was a closer age to Luc’s son than I was to Luc at that point.

Brown, on his 2004-05 season spent in the AHL:
I think it was probably one of the more important years of my career. I had a tough year my first year, like I was making a name for myself in the physical aspect of the game, I remember I struggled to score my first goal for like a long time. I think I ended up with one goal my first year. I had a couple high-ankle sprains, so it was a tough year and then the lockout came. It just allowed me to get one year of pro hockey where I was probably playing 18-20 minutes a night in the A every night, and it was an elevated league at that point because of the lockout, so it gave me that experience at the pro level to feel comfortable in games. Then I came back after the lockout and kind of took it from there.

Dustin Brown, on whether he felt the weight of the team’s futility during his early years:
I think it actually magnified, the futility, if anything. You come in into an organization when you’re 18, I hadn’t won anything. My first year was 03-04, so I’d played in the organization for eight years. We hadn’t won anything for eight years, but then you start talking to people that haven’t won stuff for 44 years. Whether they’re a fan, whatever it is, my perspective was in my world was ‘we hadn’t won for eight years.’ But once we won, then you have people coming up, saying, ‘I’ve been watching the Kings for 40,’ and then it’s like, Jeez. I think it magnified it when we won, just how many people came up to you during that summer, just seeing strangers saying, ‘I’ve been a Kings fan my whole life.’ It puts in in perspective, because at that point, I’d only been a King for not even a decade, so you don’t carry the baggage that maybe some Kings fans had carried.

Brown, on the camaraderie between members of the 2003 draft class:
There’s going to be 10 guys, maybe, that might play 1,000 games. Maybe more – I don’t know where some guys are. Seabrook, Staal, I mean, Fleury’s played a ton of games for a goalie. Carts is right up there, Getzlaf, Perry. That’s what I mean – it’s one thing to be a part of a draft, but that draft was ridiculous in the fact that you might have that many players from one draft. I think there’s 330 players with 1,000 games. There might be 10, 12 guys from one round of one draft that get there. I don’t know what the record is, but it’s pretty incredible. It’s just years of playing – I’ve kind of proved my point – if he has 1,000 games, I have 1,000 games, we’ve probably played 50 or 60 games against each other. A whole season, right?

Brown, on whether Kings fans remind him of his Daniel Sedin hit:
It’s brought up a lot. When players are reminiscing about those times, that’s one of those things that’s always talked about. It’s just one of those moments that has a big impact on not only the game and the series, but the year. They’re all good memories from that time. That’s one that sticks out for a lot of people.

Brown, on reaching the milestone in Vancouver:
Like I said, it’s the same thing as a thousand games. You don’t ever expect it, and then it’s upon you. I think the older I get, you realize there’s a lot more that goes into it than my hard work, my preparation. There are so many factors – the factor that I’ve been able to stay here through some rough times. How many players can say that they have the opportunity to finish a career with one organization. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s probably a two-way street of me committed to being here and the Kings also standing behind me in some tough situations.

Dion Phaneuf, on the camaraderie of the 2003 draft class:
For me, I’m very proud of being a part of that draft class. I think you have a certain respect for the guys that you were drafted with. No matter what draft you go, no matter what year it is, I think you keep an eye on everyone, but with that draft, there were a lot of special players that have played a long time, and you get to know them at different events, whether it be through All-Star games or the media tour with the NHL. You see a lot of guys for a lot years. It’s a special draft to be a part of, one I’m proud to be a part of. You see the players and the longevity they’ve had, it’s a pretty special group.

Jeff Carter, on reconnecting with Brown when joining the team in 2012:
You grow up getting into the league at 18, you get married and have kids. Guys change a lot. Brownie, when I came in, he was still a quiet guy, but he was that quiet leader and you know when he said something in the room, everybody listened. He’s one of those guys that you know every night that he’s going to bring it. You don’t have to worry about him. I was really impressed back then.

Corey Perry, on the 2003 draft class:
Yeah, it’s a pretty special draft and you look at all the guys that have played many games in this league and I mean it’s pretty remarkable and guys have had successful careers. A lot of awards, a lot of Stanley Cups, and all the different accomplishments that a lot of guys have had in that class. It just shows how deep it really was.

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–Lead photo via Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI

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