April 06, 2016

Rob Brown

Rob Brown was a hard player to figure.

Look at his stats and you will see amazing numbers.

Brown was an offensive terror in juniors, posting a ridiculous 173 and 212 points in his last two seasons with Kamloops in the Western Hockey League. He was named as the Canadian Major Junior Hockey Player of the Year in 1997.

Brown made the immediate jump to the NHL and had a decent rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 24 goals and 44 points. In 1988-89 the Penguins put Brown on a line with Mario Lemieux and he responded with 49 goals (24 on the power play) and 115 points.

But then his emerging dominance all but dried up.

Brown's ability to handle the puck was as good as anyone in hockey. Only Lemieux may have been better. Brown was blessed with the softest of hands and a brilliant mind for offensive creation. He could stickhandle his way out of a phone booth and find teammates with impossible passes.

For all his lofty assist and point totals, Brown was always a goal scorer first. He had an excellent release with exceptional accuracy. He was never afraid to use his shot either. He was also more than willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals. He was often found close to the net, digging for loose pucks to convert into the so called garbage goals. They were all beautiful to him. His incredible hand eye coordination also made him one of the top deflection men in the league.

Yet after his excellent season riding shotgun with Lemieux, Brown's magic seemingly disappeared.

The Penguins committed to Rick Tocchet, Mark Recchi and Joey Mullen on the right wing, leaving Brown as the odd man out. Though he was a feisty son-of-a-gun he was not suited for a bottom six role. He tried his best defensively, but his skating would not allow him to thrive that way, either.

Brown's skating was quite poor, easily the weakest of his otherwise amazing finesse skills He had very good balance on his blades but lack any speed or agility. It just goes to show that his hand skills were so good that they overcame his weak skating ability.

The Penguins traded Brown to Hartford for Scott Young. A couple of Stanley Cup championships came to Pittsburgh not long after.

Brown, meanwhile, put up close to a point a game in two half seasons with Hartford, but was moved to Chicago in 1992. He was all but out of the league shortly thereafter.

Brown also suffered from a reputation that preceded him. He was cocky and arrogant on the ice, but when you are scoring at will like Brown could, that sort of agitation had to be respected. But he also frustrated his coaches and teammates with a perceived poor work ethic, in practice and in on off ice conditioning.

Brown would find his scoring touch in International Hockey League, then a top minor league. He led the league in scoring three out of four years with jaw-dropping totals.

Brown would return to the NHL and to Pittsburgh for three seasons from 1997 through to 2000. He was used mostly as an offensive role player, often sitting on the bench waiting for power plays, or sitting in the press box waiting for another chance to use his game breaking offense.

Yet those would be some of the best memories of Brown's NHL career. After everything he had been through, he learned to be much more appreciative.

"I was lucky enough to be able to play in a league I'd hoped I'd be part of most of my life. It was always my dream to make it to the NHL, so when I was able to work my way back, it was very gratifying,"

Brown returned to his childhood home of Edmonton to raise his family. He became an analyst on Edmonton Oilers broadcasts.

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