The Windsor Spitfires in 2015-16 are icing a big team. But the biggest presence of all, both literally and figuratively, will come from a draft-eligible player who was thrust into the spotlight last season thanks to a dynamic and franchise-altering trade.
“Definitely coming into this year for the guys that didn’t get to play a lot last year, there are still some growing pains,” explained Logan Brown, a 6’7”, 218-pound center. “For me, I think I got them all out of the way last year. I think I’m poised for a big year.”
Warren Rychel, Windsor’s vice president and general manager, admitted that being force fed a key role on a developing Spitfires squad was a bit of a baptism by fire – one for which Brown may not have totally been ready. But Rychel said that Brown has learned from that experience and will only grow and get better.
“I think you have to rewind it to last year and I think we put him in some spots where he probably wasn’t comfortable with,” Rychel explained. “He’s obviously a ’98 and we put a lot of pressure on him to be our lead horse at 16 years old – only some special players can do that, like a [Taylor] Hall or [Ryan] Ellis, those type of players that we had. You know, he tired himself out down the stretch, but he had a good summer working out.
“He’s our guy. He’s big and he’s intelligent. When he plays in the NHL he’s going to be bigger, taller, even faster. He’s a real good player right now; he’s going to become a great player.”
Brown was obtained by the Spitfires in August of 2014 from the Niagara IceDogs for three second-round picks, two third-rounders, and a 14th-round selection. It was a marquee deal that shone a bright spotlight on the then 16-year-old.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t mind pressure – I kind of like it. I think I play better with a little bit of pressure,” Brown said. “I know talking to Warren, and now Rocky [new Windsor head coach Rocky Thompson], I just need to play my game and everything will be good.
“I knew last season coming in that I was going to get a lot of opportunity and I did. It wasn’t a great year as a team last year, but I think I took some big steps in my game.”
Rychel explained that a combination of a unique player and Windsor’s unique situation resulted in his decision to make a bold move – one he would be happy to repeat. The Spitfires were fined $250,000 and lost first-round picks in 2013 and 2016, and second-round selections in 2015 and 2017 for violating the league’s recruiting guidelines.
“Oh, 100 per cent. As everyone knows, we had our sanctions; we didn’t have our first-round pick. Coming off losing a lot of ’94-borns, we needed him,” Brown said. “We paid the price and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
That trade alone brought some notoriety, which is compounded by the fact that the Chesterfield, Missouri-born Brown’s father has NHL experience. His father, Jeff, played 17 years in the league and is currently the head coach of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.
The younger Brown said that dad still takes an active interest in his game, even if he’s trying to keep a respectful distance.
“He watches all the games he can and records the ones he can’t. After a game he’ll watch it and call me or text me and point this or that out,” Brown said. “He doesn’t want to step on Rocky’s toes, obviously, but he’s there to criticize me to do things well.”
It’s a continuation of a type of personalized coaching that Jeff has imparted to Logan since his younger days.
“We’d go to the rink every night almost, then we’d come home and watch NHL games,” Brown explained. “He’d pause it on the DVR and go slow, pointing this out or that out.
“Almost everything I’ve learned, it’s from him and I can’t thank him enough.”
And who will come out on top this year in the Brown vs. Brown matchup?
“They’ve gotten off to a rough start, so hopefully us,” Brown said, referencing the Ottawa 67’s 1-3 early season record. “But he’s a pretty good coach so we’ll see what he does then.”
Last year, the big center finished his rookie year with 17 goals and 26 assists in 56 games. Despite his size, Brown only accumulated 20 penalty minutes all season and finished -8. This season, in the first three games of his draft-eligible campaign, Brown has one goal and five assists, and is a +3. Brown said the changes this year are promising.
“Coming in with a new coach and a lot of new guys, we’re just kind of getting used to it now and last night we had a really good game [a 7-1 victory over the Saginaw Spirit],” Brown said. “That’s the first real big step that we’ve taken so we’re starting to get used to some new systems and started getting used to some new lines. It’s been pretty easy so far, but I think it’s only going to get better.”
The switch from Bob Boughner, who left in the off-season to take an assistant role with the San Jose Sharks, has been positive for his game, Brown said.
“[The biggest difference from last year is] the attention to detail with Rocky,” Brown said. “It’s there a lot more this year and those little things that help the team win, he really harps on those things.”
Both Brown and Rychel admitted that the big center wore down as last season progressed. And that’s why conditioning was at the top of Brown’s off-season to-do list.
“I just want to improve my all-around game and second efforts — making the pass and following it up,” Brown said. “Being a young guy and playing as much as I did last year, I got tired. This was a big summer for me and I worked really hard, so it’s about being consistent for me.”
People are noticing. NHL Central Scouting has Brown listed with a ‘B’ rating on its preliminary “Ones to Watch” list. And Rychel said he feels the sky is the limit for his young pivot.
“Obviously, he’s a passer, so I’d like to see him develop a little more of a shooter’s mentality – back some people off,” Rychel said. “Like all young players, he’s got to improve in all areas: strength, conditioning, skating – there’s no one thing.
“But there’s no perfect player at 17, as you know. He has to work on the all-around game.”
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