LOS ANGELES — Captain America could be a King.
“Dustin Brown. He’s been ‘That Guy’ on a (Stanley) Cup team, right? I mean, that says a lot about his leadership,” Paul Martin, a Penguins and Team USA defenseman, said.
“I’d like to think we have a lot of guys that would be good choices, but he’d be a pretty tough one to argue against.”
Team USA will announce its captain for the 2014 Winter Olympics on Friday. Los Angeles’ Brown, St. Louis’ David Backes, the New York Rangers’ Ryan Callahan and Minnesota’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are viewed as top candidates. Brown, Backes and Callahan captain their respective clubs.
Brown, the Kings captain since 2008, is a favorite of Dan Bylsma’s, the Penguins coach who also will run the Americans’ bench in Sochi, Russia.
Precisely what Bylsma likes about Brown is something he expected Penguins players to experience against the Kings at Staples Center on Thursday night.
“Watching Dustin over the last three weeks, he’s had probably four games where the opposition was looking to take his head off,” Bylsma said Thursday morning. “Fight him, challenge him because of how heavy he plays the game — going to the net hard, scoring goals in the blue paint, maybe standing over a goalie because of hits he’s delivered.
“I keep watching these games, and I keep reading the comments. That’s what you’re playing against when you’re playing against Dustin Brown.”
Team USA was unveiled on New Year’s Day. Three days later, Brown traded blows with Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, a fellow American Olympian.
“For the most part, he goes out and plays hard, hits hard and plays the game the right way,” said Rob Scuderi, who played defense for the Kings the past four seasons before returning to the Penguins as a free agent in July. “That’s what you want out of your captain, really.”
Bylsma said Brown will “deliver a hit that can change the game.”
Brown ranked fifth among NHL players with 155 hits entering Thursday. He paced all players with 93 hits in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, during which the Kings emerged from the Western Conference’s eighth and final slot to win their only championship.
Brown did more than get physical for those Kings. He also finished tied for the postseason lead with eight goals and 20 points.
He had not scored in eight games entering Thursday, and the Kings were 2-5-1 in those contests. Kings coach Darryl Sutter switched him from left to right wing in an attempt to spark an offense that had produced only 13 goals since Brown last scored Jan. 13.
Brown’s down season offensively — 10 goals and 16 points in 54 games — did not deter Bylsma and Team USA management from making him a big part of their Olympic plan to build a “team” as opposed to a collection of high-profile scorers.
Players who combine speed, physicality and unselfishness — hallmarks of Brown’s game, Scuderi said — fit well with Bylsma’s system. Brown on Team USA could do what Chris Kunitz does for the Penguins: forecheck aggressively, retrieve chipped-in pucks, grind along the boards and give as good as he gets at the front of the net.
Brown, like Kunitz for the Penguins, could do all of that from one shift to the next.
“In a short tournament (such as the Olympics) where maybe a big hit or big play is needed to swing momentum or swing a game, he can definitely help you out,” Scuderi said.
Whether Brown wears a “C,” an “A” (alternate) or no letter for the Americans, Bylsma said he plans to count on that straight-line leadership from one of 13 previous Olympians on the roster.
“Leadership is a big part of his game,” Bylsma said. “I hope in five or six games over there he’s got four people that want to take his head off.”