TAMPA — J.T. Brown arrived on the Lightning scene 18 months ago, choosing to sign with Tampa Bay as an undrafted college free agent.
Though the time frame is not that long, it feels as though he's been around for some time now. When the 23-year-old reported for rookie camp Wednesday in preparation for a three-game tournament in Coral Springs, it marked the first time he has done so since joining Tampa Bay.
“It has felt like a long time,'' Brown said. “The seasons (in pros) are a lot longer than the college ones, so it takes a little more out of you. But I'm excited to be back down here and see what it's all about.''
Brown appeared in the final five games of the 2011-12 season. Playing with scorers Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell, he did not look out of place.
But the NHL lockout prevented Brown from coming to his first NHL camp in September 2012, in his first professional year. He started the season with Syracuse in the American Hockey League, but he was slowed by a minor injury that forced him to miss some games.
Just as he was starting to come along, he broke his collarbone Dec. 28 that required surgery and needed six weeks to recover. That took him out of the equation when Tampa Bay opened camp in January once the lockout was resolved.
Now, Brown is out to show he's ready to compete for one of the few open forward spots on opening night Oct. 3.
Last season, he became a go-to player for Syracuse coach Rob Zettler in the postseason as the Crunch advanced to the Calder Cup final.
“He really played well for us at the end of the year,'' Zettler said. “By the last few weeks of the regular season and in the playoffs, he was one of our better players, and he got better and better as the playoffs went on.
“Defensively, (he was counted on). He scored some big goals for us. Offensively, he showed his speed, so I look for big things from him.''
After finishing the regular season with 10 goals and 28 points in 51 games for Syracuse, Brown appeared in all 18 playoff games, scoring four goals and nine points.
The Lightning hope the experience will lead to a quick learning curve once training camp opens Wednesday.
“He just had a setback with the injury, but I feel he had a very good year,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “I was very pleased with how he played in the playoffs. He didn't have spectacular numbers, but he played extremely well. He plays hard. He has good speed and skills. He generates a lot of scoring chances.
“He's physically strong for not being a huge guy. He runs over guys pretty well, so I think he's going to be a guy that has the ability to play in all situations. The lockout and the injury kind of hurt his opportunity ... to get a spot on this team (last year), but we feel he's a very good prospect.''
Brown enters the next four days not wanting to get ahead of himself.
“Something that I need to do here is play well and show myself,'' Brown said, ''so I can get a spot at main camp.''