From Vancouver, Canada — In two years Dustin Brown has gone from the youngest captain in the Kings' history to the senior active player with the team, a progression both startling and significant.
The hard-hitting right wing from Ithaca, N.Y., was a month short of 24 when he became the 15th captain in franchise history on Oct. 8, 2008. With Alexander Frolov departing as a free agent over the summer, Brown is the only player remaining on the Kings from the 2005-06 season, the first after the lockout.
Taking it another step, Brown, center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Jack Johnson are the lone holdovers from the 2006-07 season, the first under General Manager Dean Lombardi. That team won 27 games and earned only 68 points.
Starting this season Brown had played 431 games with the Kings, tops among active players. Kopitar was second with 318 games' tenure.
"Pretty amazing," Brown said Saturday before the Kings began the season against the Canucks at Rogers Arena. "Now you look at it, the last three years we probably have 10 guys that have been here for that long. It's great."
The turnover that marked Brown's first few seasons has slowed while the Kings assembled a strong nucleus. That group includes Brown, Kopitar, Johnson, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Quick and/or Jonathan Bernier in goal and some of the six rookies who made the season-opening roster.
The Kings' average age to start the season was 25.4, down more than two years from two seasons ago. They have been able to throw big, talented kids into the lineup and haven't had to sign older, third-tier free agents to plug holes.
"Out of training camp we had a lot of young kids making the team and stepping up and filling roles and that's a great thing for the organization in general," Brown said. "And then you have that core that's been in place for two or three years. Our core with the exception of me — well, for another month — is 25 and under. That's a pretty good thing for the Kings."
For Brown, the Kings' progress first became apparent two years ago, and in an odd way.
"The fact we were out of the playoffs in maybe February or March, which was an improvement over the previous couple of years when we were out in November, December," he said.
But he saw competitiveness amid the defeats.
"You could tell we were getting better just by the results on the ice," he said. "We weren't getting the game handed to us. We were competing for it and we were just a little short, and that's a sign of improvement for me."
For the Kings, like the Capitals, Blackhawks and Penguins, the ladder to success meant drafting well and trading for or signing free agents to fill holes they couldn't fill internally. The Kings still need a productive center and prolific winger to entertain serious Stanley Cup aspirations, but they have assets they can trade to acquire those missing pieces.
"That's definitely the direction you want to go in," Brown said. "We got two years younger from two years ago and we're getting exponentially better as a team. That's definitely the right track."
The Kings' 46 wins and first playoff performance last spring since 2002 have heightened expectations for them this season. Brown said he and his teammates have talked about that a lot.
"The most important expectation is the expectation we have for ourselves," he said. "That's something we didn't have maybe last year. We had a belief last year but not an expectation. I think expectations are a lot more responsibility and accountability from players."
As Brown approached his seventh season opener with the Kings he had the perspective of a veteran — albeit a young one.
"Every team comes in thinking they're going to do well, at the beginning. It's Game 1," he said. "But having the confidence of knowing that we're going to be there at the end is definitely an exciting prospect for myself, especially, and some of the other guys who have been here and have gone through the losing year in and year out.
"It's nice coming into a season where we have a team we know we can win with."