IS THE best of Ben Brown still to come?
Melbourne believes its marquee summer recruit can develop into an "even better player" than he was at North Melbourne, despite the key forward still being plagued by an ongoing knee complaint that will delay his start to the year.
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Brown enjoyed three successive 60-goal seasons with the Kangaroos, before enduring a painful 2020 campaign that was blighted by both form and fitness issues that restricted him to just nine appearances and eight goals.
Forced to undergo more knee surgery last month after still being hampered by the problem upon his arrival at the Demons, Brown remains around a month away from returning to make his club debut.
But Melbourne still believes it can extract more from Brown when the 200cm goalkicker does ultimately return, saying he can even surpass the impressive feats achieved at his former club.
"Absolutely he can (return to his best)," Demons coach Simon Goodwin told AFL.com.au.
"He's still at that age where he can improve his game. I think in his own words, he wants to improve his game. He's really clear about what that looks like.
"We don't see him just as that type of player, we think he's still got growth in his game and can become an even better player for us."
Brown had enjoyed an impressive start to his first pre-season in Melbourne colours, improving his fitness base and kicking six goals in a quarter throughout an intraclub match in January.
However, last month, the 28-year-old underwent an arthroscope to repair cartilage damage in his left knee after being hampered by persistent swelling on the injury throughout the summer.
Despite the same injury prematurely ending his 2020 season, bringing an excellent run of 63, 61 and 64-goal campaigns to an end, the Demons do not believe he will struggle to recapture his best form.
"Ben's been super since he came into our club," Goodwin said.
"He trained really hard, got himself felt, was executing some things within our training that was really exciting. Unfortunately for him, he got injured. But we're going to be really cautious with Ben. He's an important player for us and we've signed him for four years. We think he's got a lot of goals left in him still to kick in our forward half.
"He looks like he's on track to be back around round three or round four, but we won't push that. We'll make sure he's right and he goes through the steps appropriately. We're excited by what he can bring.
"He's kicked 240 goals in a four-year patch. It's a lot of goals, I think it's the most in the competition, so we're excited by what he can bring. We want to get him back."
Brown's return will likely coincide with that of fellow key forward Sam Weideman, with the youngster also set to miss the start of the upcoming season after suffering a stress fracture in his right leg.
In their absence, Melbourne expects captain and four-time All-Australian Max Gawn to spend more prolonged periods forward as former No.3 pick Luke Jackson gains valuable experience in the ruck.
"It's something we've earmarked since we drafted Luke into our footy club. He's certainly got a lot of capability forward of the ball, Luke, and he's a big boy. But he also gives you a different look in the ruck," Goodwin said.
"Max is an outstanding player and he showed even in the trial game how good he can potentially become. Being able to use both of them in the ruck, but also both of them forward, is something that we're really looking at. They give us a different look in each area of the ground, depending on what we need at that specific time.
"We'll monitor that, we'll see where we need to place each guy and what we need in each area of the ground, and we'll place them accordingly."