As part of the feature story on Dustin Brown, I talked to Dean Lombardi to get his thoughts on Brown. The question came up a few days ago about who selects the captains. It’s up to team management. Coaches can seek input from players, and there’s certainly a lot of talking involved, but in the end, it’s up to the coaching staff. Lombardi has seen Brown for two full seasons now, so here you can read his thoughts about the development of the Kings’ new captain…
Question: When you think about Dustin’s improved leadership, what stands out the most?
LOMBARDI: “Well, the first thing is that you can’t lead until you’re the best player you can be. Nobody is going to follow you, really follow you, unless you set that example first. The first thing I saw, particularly this year, was that he spent the summer here training. He’s just starting to get his body to where it’s like a professional athlete. He never used to stay here in the summer and never really knew how to train properly. So that’s the first thing. Until you do that, then the leadership stuff is just talk. The way his game has risen I think is directly related to that. Not only is he playing at a high intensity level, but he’s also always looking for ways to get better. That’s leadership.
“The other thing that happened was, in the development camp, he learned to express himself. I think it was always in him, but he had a lid on himself, so to speak. He has come out of his shell, in terms of his communication skills. When he met with the kids in the development camp, he gave a lecture to the kids on what it means to be a pro, and it was just awesome. When I first met this kid two years ago, he didn’t say three words in my office. Now you’re seeing a man develop the right way. Obviously he cares.
“The other thing I’ve always said is that if you’re going to build the right way, leadership has to come from the guys with a tattoo on their ass. There’s no question that he cares about this franchise. He committed to it for six years on a contract. It’s not what he says, it’s what he does. He hits the mark on all of the things that count, by his actions, not his words.”
Question: Why do you think it all came together for him now?
LOMBARDI: “They’ve never had here what they have in Detroit, that classic handoff, where Yzerman teaches Datsyuk. I’ve talked about this before. When you don’t have that, it takes a while for a kid to say, `OK, I guess I’ve got to figure it out on my own.’ He had it tough. I think it was always in him, but there was nothing to draw it out. Actually, there was more to suppress it than draw it out. I think he has just grown up. Plus, you add some other young players from within and that builds his confidence, because he has young kids looking up to him. But I think that when you don’t have that classic Detroit handoff, so to speak, I think it’s harder.
“I think that’s why a lot of kids fail. Maybe some kids only figure it out because of the handoff. When people say, `Why is Detroit winning?’ they overlook that part of it. Once that culture is established, it’s huge. I don’t think (Brown) had the benefit of that, but it has to start somewhere. The other thing that happened is, you see more young players coming here in the summer and they’re looking up to him. Now it starts coming out, versus that lid that was put on him. He had nobody in his peer group that he could relate to.”
Question: What were your impressions of him when you got here, and what did you hope he could be for this team?
LOMBARDI: “It’s funny. Even when I was scouting him (for Philadelphia), a lot of people labeled him as a third-line player. When I was in Philly, I always had him at least a two (second-line player). I thought he showed more than just being a third-line banger. His hands were good and he could snap the puck. His poise level was a little too wired-up. So it’s kind of funny. I was going there for the Flyers to rate the players, and I always had him higher than other guys. It was kind of strange. I thought maybe I was screwed up, because they should know him better. So I always believed he was at least a second power forward, but he has taken it to another level. I think he’s showing now that he can be a top power forward, but he’s still got work to do. He’s made great progress but his game is still not done yet.”
Question: So what’s the next level for him?
LOMBARDI: “Well, when you talk about power forward, you talk about Owen Nolan, Iginla, Shanahan. Those guys are gold. I think that’s what he should aspire to, to be know as one of the top power forwards in the game. Those are hard to find. So no, he’s not at that level, but he’s still got upside and he has made strides. The thing you love about power forwards vs. skill guys? They always show up in the playoffs. It’s always the power forwards. Adam Deadmarsh? Oh, he can’t skate in the regular season. Playoffs? Who’s getting it done? It’s Adam Deadmarsh.”