Logan Brown will have a familiar face on his left wing when he suits up for his season debut with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday evening.
Growing up in St. Louis, Brown and Brady Tkachuk were teammates for several seasons in minor hockey on a team that often featured Logan’s dad, Jeff, as the head coach and Brady’s father, Keith, as an assistant.
So chemistry shouldn’t be an issue on Wednesday night, as a couple of childhood friends get the opportunity to reunite on Ottawa’s top line against the Detroit Red Wings.
“We were always hanging out with one another – off the ice and on the ice. He was always getting the goals and I was always getting the hits,” Tkachuk said of their time as minor hockey linemates.
For his part, Brown said it is going to be “pretty cool” to line up alongside Tkachuk on home ice. And he knows that if he gets into any trouble against the Red Wings, Tkachuk will be there to defend him – just like he was in their minor hockey days.
“He was a year younger, playing up with us. He’s always been the same as he is now. He’s not afraid out there,” Brown said. “I got hit from behind and he ran in there and started pushing the guy and tried to fight him. And we were like 12 years old.”
“I don’t remember that specific time,” Tkachuk said with a laugh. “But he was one of our best players in youth hockey and he was a good friend, so I guess I didn’t like what I saw.”
The Senators are hoping they like what they see in Brown, who was recalled on Wednesday morning after the club announced significant injuries to two of their centres. Colin White will be sidelined for about a month with a hip flexor injury, while Artem Anisimov is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury.
The Senators wanted to take a more cautious and patient approach with Brown, but the injuries have left them with no choice but to thrust the 2016 first-round pick into the NHL lineup.
“We wanted him to play a lot of minutes. And to start the year with all the centres we had, we didn’t see an opportunity for him to play more than 10 minutes a night and we didn’t think that was any good for his development,” explained head coach D.J. Smith. “We’re in a situation now where we have two centres down. I think we were trying to hold him there for as long as possible so he could develop. Fortunately for him – and unfortunately for us – with the injuries, he’s coming up. My job is to make sure he gets an opportunity to play.”
Brown’s camp certainly voiced their displeasure with the Senators decision to send him to Belleville at the end of training camp. Less than three weeks ago, his agent, Andy Scott, had some very pointed comments about the Senators’ handling of his client.
“I can say with full confidence that I’ve really never seen another player met with such resistance by the team that drafted them early in the first round,” said Brown’s agent Andy Scott, in a TSN 1200 radio interview on Oct. 3. “But, from 10,000 feet, when I look at this situation, I see a team that is in the throes of a rebuild and just driving around Ottawa you see the slogan for this season is ‘The Kids are Alright,’ and if the kids are alright, then play the kids. Why is Logan Brown not being groomed to be the next first- or second-line centre?”
Brown admitted Wednesday morning that the training camp demotion to Belleville was hurtful, but he tried his best to take a positive approach to the situation. He was certainly less direct in his wording than his agent.
“That really sucked. I really felt like this was my year, so to get sent down, it hurt. But I used it as motivation and took it as a challenge,” said Brown. “I did everything I could down there. Worked hard and worked on all the things they wanted me to improve on to get an opportunity back up here.”
Instead of sulking, Brown was an offensive force in the first two weeks of the regular season with Belleville. Placed on a line with Drake Batherson, Brown collected three goals and seven points in his first five games of the season.
“I was more pleased with my start down there. I really found my legs and my game. I remembered how to be a complete 200-foot player in both ends,” said Brown.
When Brown has been with the Senators in the past – either in training camp or for his six previous NHL regular-season games – he’s seen limited ice time with less-skilled players. In two games with the Senators this past February, for example, he never even reached the 12-minute plateau, playing 9:32 and 11:30 respectively.
On Wednesday night, he will centre Ottawa’s top unit with Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair and should see his ice time fall somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.
“I get a chance to play with two skilled wingers and guys who have scored goals in this league. It would be good to get some offence going,” said Brown.
The Senators could desperately use an injection of skill and creativity right now – both of which are part of Brown’s arsenal. Ottawa currently ranks dead last in offence in the NHL this season, with only 17 goals scored through eight games.
In particular, the club’s power play has looked anemic and unimaginative while connecting for a single goal in 25 opportunities in this young season. It might be a lot of pressure for Brown, but it seems like he could be the only one to salvage the power play at this point.
“Logan Brown probably has the most skill of any forward on the ice tonight on the power play,” Smith said emphatically on Wednesday, when asked how Brown could help his ailing unit. “He’s the best passer. He’s a big guy. He’s got great vision. So he’s certainly going to help our power play. I suspect he’ll be our best power-play guy here tonight.”
Whether or not this is just an audition for Brown or a full-time promotion remains to be seen. However, Smith and the front office are making it perfectly clear that if Brown can seize this opportunity, they won’t be sending him back to Belleville anytime soon.
“If he shows that he’s ready to be a full time NHLer, I see no reason why he can’t be,” added Smith. “Hopefully it’s now. If not, we’ll keep developing him.”