Generals captain Josh Brown's path to NHL contract more typical of the OHL grind

Josh Brown signed with the Florida Panthers in April (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)
Josh Brown signed with the Florida Panthers in April (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

Connor McDavid is an irresistible force, so that must make Josh Brown the immovable object.

One captain in the OHL final is the best foot that the Canadian Hockey League likes to put forward, even if the McDavid phenomenon might simply be proof major junior works best for young players who were already good. It's notable, going into the championship series, that Brown is more representative of the rise-and-grind reality of junior puck, having become a two-year captain for the Oshawa Generals while earning a contract with the Florida Panthers, who played a sixth-round hunch on him in the 2013 draft.

As it happens, Friday's series opener will come exactly 17 months to the day since McDavid last faced the Generals, early in 2013-14. That's only whetted the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Brown's appetite to help lead the group effort at stymieing the phenom.

"You always want to put yourself up against the best players and the hardest challenges," the London, Ont., native said on Wednesday. "So for us, this is going to be pretty big and I'm pretty excited for it.

"I don't think I have played anybody with that skill set," Brown added. "I don't think nervous is the word for it, but I have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how I'm going to defend him."

To those who follow the OHL closely, Brown's a big name as an imposing shutdown defenceman for a team that has paced the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons. Over the past two rounds, he's led the defensive dragnet that contained both overage player of the year Joseph Blandisi of the Barrie Colts and limited Ottawa Senators signing and Team Canada member Nick Paul to one goal in a six-game semifinal against North Bay. Off the ice, Brown, who was only seven years old when his father passed, also has a charisma that doesn't need to be expressed in words.

'Find his way into the NHL'

That's made him a cornerstone for Generals coach D.J. Smith, whom initially didn't know what he was getting in Brown when he took Oshawa's coaching reins in 2012.

"When I came in, my first year, I wanted to put my stamp on the team with my guys, I call them," Smith said on Wednesday. "Josh was one of those guys who was an in-and-out player as a 17-year-old [playing 46-of-68 games as a rookie in 2011-12]. I saw a big defenceman that could block shots, was tough and I knew that there was something there that I could work with. His compete level was so high. He did well for us and elevated his game in the playoffs, even though we got swept in the second round [by Barrie and Mark Scheifele in 2013].

"We saw how the other guys looked up to him and the following year we made him captain. He has a presence in our room. He leads, not so much vocally, but with the amount of shots he's willing to block, by standing up for his teammates, all those things. He's improved his skating, improved his puck moving. He's your typical big, strong defenceman that is going to play a couple of years in the minors and find his way into the NHL.

"He's been a father figure to some of our young kids and it's nice to see that he's finally getting rewarded, getting a contract with Florida," Smith added. "He's going to go on to be a good player, but he's been great for Oshawa."

Being an overage player while balancing the needs of a group and the personal goal of earning a pro deal is not as easily done as stated. Brown pulled it off with aplomb, helping Oshawa stay on-point during what is a go-for-broke season.

"When I came back to Oshawa I knew we had a pretty special group and I knew I wanted to get to this point, I knew that I would have to be a big part of that and keeping working on my game, day in and day out, In the end, it worked out with getting myself a contract with the help of all my teammates."

The 21-year-old was at an impressionable age when his hometown London Knights won the Memorial Cup on home ice in 2005 and had a follow-up OHL runner-up finish in '06. Brown is aware he's making some memories in his adopted city before he moves on to bigger and brighter things.

"It seemed like they were always going back to the final in those days," Josh Brown said. "Just making the OHL was a big deal for me, but this is exciting. I'm just happy to give this city a chance.'"

 

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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