Possessing 13 picks including nine in the first three rounds of next week’s Entry Draft, it’s no secret the Ottawa Senators are scouring the NHL landscape seeking to improve their team. This being said, Friday’s swap of the club’s 2020 fourth-round selection (95th overall) to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Josh Brown, came as a bit of a surprise.
The thought was GM Pierre Dorion would sign a veteran unrestricted free agent defenseman, possibly re-sign pending UFA, 39-year-old Ron Hainsey, or a similar defender who can lend experience to the young Senators’ blue line.
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The trade for Brown does fill a need for depth on the right side. While the London, Ontario native doesn’t have plenty of NHL experience, 95 regular games over the past two seasons – in addition to appearances in two of the Panthers playoff qualifying games versus the New York Islanders, the 26-year-old holds familiarity with Senators head coach D.J. Smith.
Brown spent his four campaigns of his junior career with the Ontario League’s Oshawa Generals. Smith was his head coach for his final three seasons. In fact, Brown captained his final two seasons with the club, which culminated in a 2015 Memorial Cup championship. That team included Lightning Anthony Cirelli and Islanders forward Michael Dal Colle.
“I think I owe a lot of my career to D.J.. When he came over to Oshawa, I hadn’t played that much the year before and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. He took a shine to me and liked my game,” Brown noted on TSN1200 shortly after the trade. “He just gave me more and more minutes and we ended up winning a championship. I loved playing for D.J.. He can be hard on the boys, but he’s also a player’s coach, and he gets it. He’ll definitely sit you down and tell what you did wrong and why. I’m definitely looking forward to playing for him again. That’s for sure.”
An imposing figure, at six-foot-five, 217-pounds, Brown becomes the largest member of the Senators d-core. Not known for his offense, eight points (three goals, five assists) in 56 games, the Panthers 2013 sixth-round selection led his club in penalty minutes with only 39, while averaging 13:25 time-on-ice per game.
“Josh Brown is a big strong defenseman who plays a physical style of game,” said Dorion in the Senators’ media release. “He’s a defensive defenceman who skates very well and who is exceptionally competitive. He’s also a very good shot-blocker who clears a lot of space in front of the net. We’re looking forward to seeing him in our lineup.”
A pending restricted free agent, Brown becomes one of 11 RFA’s requiring a contract – three of whom on the back end, including Andreas Englund and Christian Jaros. Dorion will assuredly issue Brown a minimum qualifying offer of $735,000.
With Mark Borowiecki reportedly “Testing the free-agent waters,” and Hainsey likely returning, the Senators blue line is certainly a work in progress. There’s little doubt, Dorion isn’t finished fine-tuning next season’s edition.
The present depth chart reads something such as this.
Thomas Chabot – Nikita Zaitsev
Christian Wolanin – Josh Brown
Erik Brannstrom – Artem Zub
Mike Reilly – Christian Jaros
Bear in mind the organization will have highly-touted prospects Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson vying for jobs in the next couple of seasons, not to mention the possibility of adding a top-ranked d-man in Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson during the Draft October 6.