Ottawa Senators’ defenceman Josh Brown is right where he wants to be, a full-time NHL player with a head coach who knows and trusts him.
The London, Ontario native was Florida’s sixth round selection in 2013 but, like most sixth rounders, not quite ready for NHL prime time. Brown returned to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals for two more years, then spent the better part of four more years in the minors. Brown finally made it as a regular in Florida last season, playing in 56 of the Panthers’ 69 games. But then COVID hit, shutting down the remainder of the regular season. When the playoffs arrived in August, Brown was back to being used sparingly, appearing in just two of the Panthers’ four playoff games, and getting only nine minutes of ice time each game. Florida’s season ended at the hands of the New York Islanders and Brown’s contract was about to expire.
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators’ pro scouting staff – in the midst of a very long off-season – was looking to add size to their blue line. At 6 foot 5, 217 pounds, and a very good fighter, Brown definitely fit that bill. On top of that, the Sens had some very good inside information about the player.
When Brown was drafted in 2013, he’d just completed his second season in Oshawa and his first playing for rookie OHL head coach D.J. Smith, who now runs the show in Ottawa. Back then, the new Generals’ bench boss was so impressed with Brown and his leadership, he made him his captain, a role he would hold for the next two years. Brown got the best OHL graduation gift possible as, in the last amateur level hockey game for both men, he and Smith celebrated a Memorial Cup title together.
So, three months ago, when the Sens were looking for a Josh-Brown-type-of-player, they reached out to Josh Brown and Smith was happy to endorse him. The Sens signed him to a two-year contract (worth a total of $2.4 million) and, through the first three games in Ottawa, Smith has used him every night, handing him 15 minutes of ice per game. Brown says there’s a high comfort level in being reunited with Smith.
“He’s very similar to how he was in junior,” Brown told a media Zoom call. “I know when he’s coming down the bench and yelling at me or whatever…I know it’s coming. There’s definitely a comfort level there. I know how he expects me to play, which is great right off the bat, knowing you have that kind of connection with the coach, I guess. It’s been great so far.”
As for Smith, he’s pleased to have his junior protégé on board.
“He’s exactly the same as he was back then,” said Smith. “Blocks shots, plays tough, boxes out. He’s really competitive. His skating has improved, obviously, to allow him to play in the National Hockey League. I think there was a shift (against Toronto) where (Auston) Matthews was coming full speed and (Brown) managed to beat him to the post. In junior, (Brown) wouldn’t have been able to do that so, obviously, he’s worked on it. And he’s a really good defender – big, strong. He’s gonna help us get better here.”
Yes, as Josh Brown celebrates his 27th birthday today (January 21st), he’s right where he wants to be.