With Stamkos hurt, J.T. Brown getting his opportunity and making the most of it
Had Steven Stamkos not gotten injured on Monday, who knows when J.T. Brown, who has played so well for AHL Syracuse, would have gotten a chance with the Lightning? But Brown, signed in March 2012 as a free agent out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, was called up this week when Stamkos sustained a broken right tibia and has fit right in.
The right wing is not a replacement for Stamkos -- who would be? -- yet he has six shots on goal in two games, has an assist, is playing on the first power-play unit and if not for a tremendous save by Montreal's Carey Price, would have had a goal in his first game up on Tuesday.
"Yeah, I wasn't sure if is slid though his legs or not," Brown said. "There have been a few chances so far but, I mean, if you're getting chances you're in the right spot, so that's the way I like to look at it."
Brown, 23, on a line with center Valtteri Filppula and Teddy Purcell has impressed with his speed and how he does not look out of place. Part of that is this is his second stint with Tampa Bay -- he played five games after he was signed -- so he knows the lay of the land. He also is playing in a system with which he is familiar, having played last season for coach Jon Cooper at Syracuse.
"It's a lot more comfortable," Brown said. "Obviously, playing for Cooper before I know what he expects of me. I know the systems and the way he coaches. It makes it a lot easier coming up this time than the first time when I didn't know anything. I was brand new to the system."
Brown has been quite productive at Syracuse with four goals and 10 points in 13 games.
"He's been really good," Syracuse GM Julien BriseBois said. "He's been one of our best forwards at Syracuse. He plays a strong two-way game, is responsible, has got speed. He's really improved his shot over the past year, so he's more of a threat to score goals. His game is just maturing now."
"It's a good opportunity," Brown said. "You never want to see anybody get injured. But at the same time, I'm here now and I'm just doing whatever I can to help this team keep winning."
Even if Brown does not stick with the big club, what he is doing now will be invaluable when the team has to make personnel decisions down the road, whether they be for call-ups or about who will be with the team long-term.
"You get to find out about yourself and your team," Cooper said. "It's all about building for April. You have to be in the conversation in April. That's when you say, 'Who do you have, what do you have ? Who's done it for us during the year?' This is the time guys get an opportunity to do that."
"But he's a guy," Cooper said of Brown, "who has taken his opportunity and seized it."
Other stuff from the morning skate: As expected, Ben Bishop will get the start in net tonight against the Coyotes. ...Defenseman Sami Salo (lower body), who missed Tuesday's game at Montreal and Thursday's against the Kings, is back in the lineup. ... The skate was optional. Filppula and defenseman Victor Hedman did not participate. ... Defenseman Mark Barberio (hand/arm) skated but will not play tonight. ... Defenseman Keith Aulie (upper body) and forward Tom Pyatt (broken collarbone) skated while wearing red no-contact jerseys. ... Also scratched tonight are defenseman Dmitry Korobov and wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie. ... Cooper said Barberio and Aulie should be available by the end of the road trip. If not, then when the team returns home. ... Coper also said he would like to get Korobov into a game before he goes back to AHL Syracuse. "We've got him here. He's a prospect," Cooper said, though he acknowledged facing either the Kings, Sharks or Ducks on the rest of the road trip would be a "tough initiation. But he's a heavy body (6 feet 3, 230 pounds) and we're going to start playing some heavy teams, so maybe it would make a little bit of sense." ... Lot of love from Cooper for Hedman, who had five shots Tuesday at Montreal and a goal and an assist Thursday against the Ducks. With Salo out, he also took turns on the power play. "He's just playing at a different level right now," Cooper said. ... Coyotes and former Lightning goalie Mike Smith has been a workhorse. He has faced more shots this season than any goaltender (607) and he leads the league since the start of the 2011-12 season with 14 games in which he has made at least 40 saves. ...Smith also scored a goal this season, something Bishop said he would love to do. "Absolutely, but the opportunity has to be right," he said. "You don't need to be throwing up a pizza in the middle of the ice." ... What's not to like about defenseman Andrej Sustr? Not much. But Cooper said he will be even better when he packs some muscle on his 6-8, 225 frame. "He's still got kind of a little bit of a boys body. He doesn't have a pro body yet. We get him a year or two in the weight room and really working on his core strengths, and when he starts to physically mature you're going to see the kid jump by leaps and bounds."