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Weekly Question: What Do You Do With Logan Brown?

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In the midst of his second professional season, Logan Brown has been quite the polarizing prospect. In this week’s weekly question, we take a look at what the Ottawa Senators should do with their prized, lanky centre.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

On a warm June day back in 2016, the Ottawa Senators traded up to select Logan Brown 11th overall. Originally, the Senators were going to make their first selection of the draft just one spot later. In what was likely fuelled by the fear that the New Jersey Devils would grab Brown before the Senators had the opportunity to call his name, GM Pierre Dorion sent their 12th overall selection and a third round pick (80th overall, Brandon Gignac) to the Devils for the opportunity to grab their target.

At the time the response was a bit of mixed bag. The Senators gave up an additional pick, which isn’t always the best use of draft capital, to ensure they got their big, skilled centre. Some saw this as paying to reach for a prospect, others saw it as paying to get the guy they were after. If you’re a fan of the hindsight game, the Senators could have kept their third rounder and selected either of Charlie McAvoy or Jakob Chychrun but they didn’t so let’s not dwell on it.

Since being selected in 2016, Brown has had his fair share of successes and injuries summing up his young career with mixed expectations and a ton of questions. When you have a first round calibre player who hasn’t come flying out of the gates, you start to wonder.

So far Brown has had a solid introduction to professional hockey when he’s been able to play. As a member of the Senators organization, Brown has yet to complete a season without missing relatively significant time on the sidelines. This definitely raises questions about Brown’s longevity as an NHL player, but for me, it’s not big enough of a concern to cut bait with the player in the short term.

This leads us to this week’s question: what do the Ottawa Senators do with Logan Brown?

Realistically, there are two options. First, trade him while the Senators can still use his potential as a big part of his trade value. Second, practice patience and continue his development within the Ottawa system.

Trade Him!

I’ll start by saying I think there could be merit, at this point, in trading Brown but there’s a large caveat — how are the Senators about to use their first two draft picks in June whenever the draft occurs?

I’m of the opinion that drafting the best player available is the only way to go, especially in the first round. The good news is there is no shortage of quality centres available early in the 2020 draft so it’s likely that the best player available to Ottawa will be a centre. It’s even quite possible that the Senators walk away with two quality centres. What a day that would be!

When you look at the players available after Alexis Lafrenière, we’re talking about solid, possible game-breaking centres in Quinton Byfield, Tim Stützle, Marco Rossi and Anton Lundell. In a world where the Ottawa Senators walk away from the draft with any two of the aforementioned players, you can start to consider moving Brown.

That being said, you obviously have to think about the return. In my opinion, if you can’t package Brown and a few picks for a young defender who’s ready for NHL minutes, you probably don’t move him. If we’re talking about organizational need, we need to think about who is going to be the veteran blueliner alongside Thomas Chabot when players like Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson are beginning to play full-time NHL minutes. The player the Senators acquire in a hypothetical Brown+ trade needs to be someone who will have a season or two of NHL experience by the time these defensive prospects in Ottawa’s system graduate. Basically, that means, the defender they pick up needs to be taking a regular shift in the NHL next season. And, if we’re getting a little wild on a Saturday morning here, if it takes the Islanders’ first round pick along with Brown to acquire this magical defender, I think you do it.

Who is this player in question? I honestly have no idea. You could look at a guy like Jake Bean, drafted just two spots after Brown, who has had back-to-back solid campaigns in a Carolina system that’s full of defenders. Dante Fabbro, also of the 2016 draft class, is another name to consider as he’s coming off playing an entire season in Nashville as a right shot, 21 year old. Brandon Carlo would be another defender to target, but I have serious doubts that Boston would look to move him in the near future.

All of this is to say, I think moving Brown is absolutely an option if you can bring back a defender and you’ve just selected two potential top-six centres at the draft.

Keep Him!

The other option in this scenario is to keep Brown and let him continue developing. For me, this means having him as a regular member of the Ottawa lineup next season. I think Brown has learned enough at the AHL level and all he’ll do if he spends more time in Belleville is continue to produce and wait for his turn in the show.

Looking at Brown’s production over his young career, there are things to like. In his draft+1 year, Brown had a fine season in Windsor that saw him put up 40 points in 35 games, missing time with an injury. In his draft+2 year, he split the season between Windsor and Kitchener, where he amassed 48 points in 32 games. If you’re noticing the games played trend here, you’re catching on. During the World Juniors, Brown’s tournament was halted at three games because of yet another injury.

Finally, we get to Brown’s young pro career. In his first year in Belleville, Brown spent most of the season centering the B-Sens’ top line with Drake Batherson and Nick Paul that saw them light the league on fire and be the almost-sole reason the B-Sens came so close to their first ever playoff appearance. Compiling 42 points in 56 games, Brown’s rookie year with Belleville can be described as a success with an asterisk. That asterisk? You’ll notice he only played in 56 of Belleville’s 76 games that year, missing 20 due to a combination of being with Ottawa for a pair of games and injury. In his sophomore pro season, Brown split his time between Ottawa (23 games) and Belleville (25 games) but, yet again, missed some time due to injury.

During his time in Ottawa, there were mixed reviews on Brown’s play. Relative to his teammates, I think Brown played well given his line mates and ice time. Amongst players with at least 200 minutes played this season, Brown ranked second in GF% and eighth in CF% on the Senators. He didn’t wow anyone with his offensive production (8 points in 23 games) but he proved he can play in the NHL and should get a bigger chance with better players next year.

Aside from the injury bug, the knock on Brown seems to be his perceived lack of effort. I want to go on record stating that I believe this particular issue to be completely erroneous and based solely on a lazy eye test. Brown may appear to move slower than his linemates but because of his long stride, he doesn’t need to be moving his feet as quickly as someone like Tyler Ennis in order to cover the same amount of ground. Could he work harder? Maybe! But I had the pleasure of watching him win battles and use his size to his advantage in Belleville the past two seasons. I have no doubt that this is transferrable when he becomes a regular NHLer.

Reset Your Expectations

All in all the question of what to do with Logan Brown is actually a trick question itself (gotcha!) because the answer might be less about the above options and more about resetting our expectations.

Listen, I’d love for Brown to come in and be a 70+ point beast of a first line centre. The opportunity to watch a guy with his unique combination of size and skill centre a player like Brady Tkachuk is a thing of dreams. Between the two of them, it wouldn’t matter who the third player on the line was. Brown’s ability to move the puck and Tkachuk’s tenacity near the net would be a lethal combination. That being said, I don’t think we should expect that of Brown anymore. Will he be a second line centre? Maybe! But even if he settles in as a strong, scoring third line centre, that would be a win for this organization.

When you look at the teams that have put together strong playoff runs or gone as far as winning the Stanley Cup, you can point to centre depth as a big reason for their success. If the Senators can grab someone like Byfield or Stützle (or both?!) at the draft, run Colin White as the second line centre and then follow that up with a 6’6” skilled centre on the third line, that’s a seriously special lineup down the middle. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s totally possible that Brown still ends up as a solid second line centre and White is the guy holding down the fort on line three.

So if we’re answering the question of what to do with Logan Brown today, I say you keep him but reset your expectations for that first line centre role that we’ve been hoping for. Brown is going to be a solid NHL centre who will be a great contributor to many playoff runs in his career, and I think Ottawa is the perfect place for him to do just that.