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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Bolts’ Brown showing he belongs

BRANDON — When J.T. Brown signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a college free agent, he looked the part of an NHL player while appearing in the final five games of the 2011-12 season.

In his first real stint with Tampa Bay 19 months later, the 23-year-old is an NHL player.

Brown was called up on Nov. 12, the day after Steven Stamkos broke his right tibia. Though there is no way to fill Stamkos’ void, Brown has been used almost exclusively in a top-six role while seeing time on the first power-play unit. And for a few games, he played on the top line with Marty St. Louis and Valtteri Filppula.

“I’ve been real impressed; he skates real well and always when you skate well you have a good chance to make things happen,’’ Filppula said. “He’s first to pucks, he beats his guys and gets scoring chances.’’

In his third game after being called up, Brown registered his first NHL goal. Though he has not scored his second goal, it is not for a lack of chances.

In his nine games since being called up, Brown has failed to register a shot on goal only once — Nov. 19 at Los Angeles — and averages 2.7 shots per game. No other player on the team has more than 19 shots in that period. Of Brown’s 24 shots, 15 came in the past four games.

“I haven’t added up the number of shots he’s had the last while, but eventually they are going to go in when you put yourself in the right positions and you work,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

The chances Brown has generated have not been of the 50-foot wrist shot variety, either. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward has a penchant for finding space just above the crease, where he gets quality redirect opportunities and in-close chances.

Getting into those areas, logic would dictate, should eventually lead to more pucks getting behind the goaltender.

“If you are getting the opportunities, you’re doing something right,’’ Brown said. “You’re putting yourself in the position, obviously, to get a shot on net to get that chance. Right now, it’s not going in, but you just have to keep doing the same thing and getting the opportunities and eventually one will go in for you.’’

Brown ended Friday’s game against Pittsburgh lined up with rookie Nikita Kucherov, with whom Brown played on the top line in Syracuse to start the season, and center Alex Killorn. The same trio was together during practice on Saturday and figures to start as a line on Tuesday when Tampa Bay travels to Columbus.

But no matter who Brown plays with — he’s bounced around on a few line combinations — he’s shown he’s on the cusp of being an NHL regular.

“I’m really happy with the way Brownie is playing,’’ Cooper said. “He works his tail off and he is eventually going to get rewarded here.’’

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