Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association often look at statistics when voting for end-of-the year awards.
That could hinder Wild teenage defenseman Jonas Brodin’s ability to contend for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. His two goals and three assists in 26 games don’t jump off the stat sheet.
But slowly those around the NHL are starting to become aware of the quiet, star-studded virtues of the youngest defenseman in the league. Paired alongside a Norris Trophy contender and the NHL’s top minute man, Ryan Suter, the 19-year-old Brodin leads all NHL rookies in ice time per game (22 minutes, 26 seconds).
He already is one of the NHL’s most mobile blue-liners and plays a shutdown role on the Northwest Division leaders. Darcy Kuemper, Brodin’s teammate in Houston during the lockout and also with the Wild, says the young Swede has “ice in his veins.”
Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman told Yahoo! Sports recently that in a couple years Brodin and countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes will be “among the top half-dozen defensemen in the league. That’s how good they are.”
Bowman, now a Chicago Blackhawks executive, loves Brodin’s skating, skill and hockey sense.
“That guy’s going to be an unbelievable player,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “His skating ability, the way he can gap up on a guy, just the patience he has and the plays he makes … it’s unbelievable the confidence he has with the puck.
“That guy is going to be incredible player in this league, and he’s already playing great.”
Coach Mike Yeo said he knew Brodin would make an immediate impact two shifts into his NHL debut Jan. 25 in Detroit. Yeo must have been confused because Parise knew on Brodin’s first shift, when he spun away from threatening Valtteri Filppula in his own zone.
“You wouldn’t expect a guy who had [never played an NHL game] to be pulling a spin-o-rama and throwing a backhand in the middle in Joe Louis Arena. You know what I mean?” Parise said.
If you want to get a sense of Brodin’s elite skills, just look back at Mikko Koivu’s winning goal Wednesday in Detroit. After fellow rookie Charlie Coyle made a great play along the wall to backhand a pass to Brodin in the neutral zone, the defenseman exploded to create a 2-on-1 with Parise.
Instead of forcing a pass or trying to unleash a shot, Brodin astutely shot off goalie Jimmy Howard’s pad for a rebound. While the rebound didn’t fall right at Parise’s stick, the Wild’s top-line left winger found the puck behind the net and centered it for Koivu.
One of the most overshadowed parts of Brodin’s game is his being a left shot playing the right side. It’s not easy. That changes angles, makes for unnatural stick positioning and alters turns on the backcheck. It also makes Brodin unable to use his free hand to tie up forwards coming up the boards since his right hand is the top hand on his stick.
Brodin says, “It’s no big deal.”
Having incredible foot speed makes up for that disadvantage because he simply skates. He has taken two obstruction penalties all year.
Monday in Vancouver, Brodin got beat up the ice in the second period after an arguable hold by Alex Burrows. Instead of panicking, Brodin simply hit the jets and flew in from behind to deflect Burrows’ scoring chance into the netting.
Brodin did have some rare tough moments the first half of that game.
But he recovered to score the tying goal in the second period — his first career power-play goal — before being solid when it most mattered in the third, when the Wild finished off a 3-1 victory.
“One of the most impressive things is for a young player, he can make a mistake in a game or something can happen, and it’s not going to turn into a bad game,” Yeo said. “He very quickly puts it aside, and the next shift he’ll go out and do something fantastic again.
“It’s just the overall maturity of the player.”