Lately, more people have talked about Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin in the same breath as Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom, the now-retired seven-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champion from the Detroit Red Wings.
But bring up the comparisons to members of Wild management, and their necks clench and they visibly grimace.
It’s not that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr don’t believe Brodin is a special talent. It’s that they don’t want such outrageous pressure thrust upon Brodin’s 20-year-old shoulders.
Thursday night in Tampa though, Scotty Bowman, one person who knows Lidstrom better than most, used Brodin and Lidstrom in the same breath multiple times. Bowman, the Hockey Hall of Famer who won an NHL-record 1,244 regular-season games, 223 playoff games and nine Stanley Cups, coached Lidstrom for nine of his 20 years in Detroit.
Bowman, now the Chicago Blackhawks’ senior adviser of hockey ops (a k a a sounding board to his son, Stan Bowman, who has won two Stanley Cups as the Blackhawks’ GM), was scouting Thursday’s Wild-Lightning game and is a big fan of Brodin.
“He doesn’t have a gap,” Scotty Bowman said. “He’s such a good skater, if you notice he’s always up. He doesn’t back up at all and that’s the way the good ones are. Like Lidstrom, there’s no room.”
Bowman’s Brodin-Lidstrom comparisons didn’t stop there.
“Lidstrom, when he first started, he played the right side like Brodin,” Bowman said (Lidstrom was, and Brodin is, a left-shot defenseman). “We didn’t have any right-siders, and then eventually we moved Nick over. It’s not a tough thing for a good defenseman, and it’s good training for Brodin, taking pucks off the boards.”
Bowman says it’s amazing Sweden is developing so many good defensemen. He believes Brodin, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson are the three best young defensemen in the game today, and brings up Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson, Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall and Vancouver’s Alex Edler as other examples.
“Karlsson is probably more dynamic than Brodin and Ekman-Larsson,” Bowman said. “He plays more freelance, but he’s probably not as solid defensively because he’s such a good attacker. But Brodin seems to know when to move up, and in his own zone, he’s solid.”
Brodin led all rookies in average ice time per game last season and is eighth among all blueliners this season at 25 minutes, 42 seconds per game. After scoring two goals and 11 points in 45 games last season, Brodin already has three goals and six points in nine games this season. The three goals lead NHL defensemen.
“The foundation of his game, the defensive game, he almost seems to be improving in that part,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But the area we were hoping that he would grow — the offensive side of it — just keeps coming.”
Bowman understands why the Wild wants Brodin playing with Ryan Suter, “and Suter is such a good left D,” Bowman said.
“Brodin is so young and will only get better. He’s going to get stronger. Lidstrom wasn’t that strong when he first started. Lidstrom was never a big, strong guy, but he built up to be stronger.
“What I love about Brodin is he passes the puck so well. If you chart the game, most passes are on the stick, not in the feet or behind. [Suter and Brodin] is a nice tandem. Now [the Wild] just need to get another tandem. But it takes time.”