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JT Brown Ready for Bigger Role

By Jeremy Houghtaling

No longer a rookie, JT Brown’s role with the Syracuse Crunch has changed.

Last year, the Minnesota native learned how to grind it out and shut down the opposition’s top lines. At Thursday’s practice at the Onondaga County War Memorial, Brown was paired with first-rounder Vlad Namestnikov and top prospect Nikita Kucherov on a scoring line.

The newly-minted line will be looked at to provide a good chunk of the goals in the absence of Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson, who produced a combined 158 points last regular season and have since been promoted to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I feel like there's a little bit different expectations, obviously we lost a lot of offensive firepower with Panik, Johnson, and Palat going up this year," said Brown, who went undrafted and was signed by the Lightning in 2012. "With the lines, I just try to step in and maybe give a little more offensive support."

Brown is certainly capable. As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Duluth he led the Bulldogs in goals with 24 in 39 games. He had 34 goals and 77 points in 60 games during his final year with USHL Waterloo before leaving for Duluth.

Crunch coach Rob Zettler sees promise in his latest line combination.

"(Kucherov and Namestnikov) will work off each other, and have a lot of puck possession," Zettler said. "[Brown] can be in good spots to receive those passes and get some offense, but I also expect him to be responsible on defense as well."

In last season’s run to the Calder Cup Finals, Brown registered nine points in 18 postseason games, but focused on developing his defensive game by playing on a shutdown line with Mike Angelidis and JT Wyman.

"I really liked that line and he learned to play that role … He learned how to be responsible without the puck,” Zettler said. “He was out there against other teams' top lines all the time."

The long postseason run, even though it ended two wins short of the Calder Cup, provided Brown and the other young Crunch players valuable playoff experience.

"We had a really good season last year, and (we came) just shy," Brown said. "That gives you a lot of things to build off of. We know what our team lockerroom was like last year, and that's what we want to maintain this year."

With plenty of talent in the room, the bar for the 2013-14 season remains high for Brown, no matter what line he’s on.

"It's always good to play with good players - they make you play better," Brown said. "When you have other good guys playing with you, you hold each other to higher standards."