Wild rookie Brodin wise beyond his hockey years

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2013 - 6:37 AM

The 19-year-old Swede impresses his coach, teammates.

 

Mikael Granlund was a YouTube highlight machine in Finland. Charlie Coyle was a man among boys for St. John in the Quebec League last year. Jason Zucker was a star at the University of Denver.

What these forwards do well is so obvious to the naked eye, they naturally get most of the fanfare when it comes to the Wild's impressive crop of young talent.

What defenseman Jonas Brodin does well is more subtle and harder to see than the offensive skills of Granlund, Coyle and Zucker. But of all the Wild's prospects, Brodin might be the most polished. He has a chance to be a big-minute, top-pairing guy long into the future.

That is impressive, because defensemen typically mature later than forwards. Brodin is only a teenager -- a teenager getting used not only to playing North American professional hockey for the first time, but also moving from his native Sweden to a foreign country.

"You think of him as a 19-year-old and the composure that he has and the plays that he makes, we're throwing him in some difficult situations," coach Mike Yeo said. "Penalty kill. Power play. Playing against top lines every night. He's been extremely, extremely impressive.

"Most impressive to me is the consistency, shift after shift. Quite often with young players, they'll have a good shift, then a bad shift. They'll be playing well and all of a sudden make a big mistake. We haven't seen that from him."

Most amazing is the fact that Brodin played eight games for Houston, broke his collarbone, underwent surgery, missed 10 weeks and immediately stepped right into the Wild lineup.

"I missed two months, played one game back with Houston and was right up with Minnesota," Brodin said. "So I'm a little surprised it's been so good so far. The biggest thing is my skating ability, and I'm usually pretty calm with the puck and try to do the right plays."

Lots of potential

Paired predominately with All-Star Ryan Suter, Brodin's game defensively is already elite. He skates backward better than some players skate forward. His hockey IQ is obvious, his vision is excellent and he has the ability to smoothly get the Wild out of trouble and up the ice quickly in transition.

Earlier this season, Houston Aeros coach John Torchetti said Brodin skates like Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and has the thought process and natural instincts of future Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.

"He's got ice in his veins," said goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who won his first NHL game Sunday against Detroit and who was Brodin's teammate in Houston. "He never seems to get nervous, never panics no matter what situation he's thrown in. The way he sees the ice and the little plays he makes, you've got to really watch him close to appreciate it."

Brodin, selected 10th overall by the Wild in 2011, helped lead Sweden to gold at last year's world junior championships, shutting down Russia's Evgeny Kuznetsev in the gold- medal game.

In the last world championships, he went head-to-head with Russian stars such as Evgeni Malkin.

"His feet, mobility -- forwards, backwards, sideways -- is very impressive," Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "And then the way he thinks the game, breaks down situations, anticipates and moves the puck, he certainly stands out."

Learning lessons

Brodin, who has three assists in 12 games, averages 21 minutes, 56 seconds a game, second among NHL rookies and third among Wild players.

Teammate Zenon Konopka's already starting to pump Brodin up for "serious consideration for the Calder Trophy" on Twitter.

On a "side note," Konopka added, "I may adopt the kid."

The good thing about Brodin is that, unlike many young defensemen, the Wild doesn't have to teach him defense. Once he develops offensively, the team feels he could be a star. Yeo is slowly integrating Brodin more into the power play.

Brodin's toughest game came Feb. 1 in Anaheim -- the Wild's worst game of the season. Brodin tried to force plays and had trouble getting out of his own zone. Afterward, he and Suter had a talk.

"He tries to beat guys where, at every level, I'm sure he was able to hold on to the puck an extra second and beat guys," Suter said.

"Here, you can't really do that, so let's use each other. We're both good players. If you're in trouble, fire it over to my side. If I'm in trouble, I'll know you're over there.

"Ever since, it's been great. With him, he's come in on all cylinders and he's stayed there. And what's great is he'll keep getting better. I mean, he's only 19."

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