Two years ago, Craig Button flew to Sweden to scout the Elite League final.
He wanted to mostly watch Skelleftea defenseman Adam Larsson, who many touted as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft in St. Paul.
“I left there, and I’m going, ‘They’re talking about Adam Larsson going No. 1? He’s not even the best defenseman in his own country,’ ” said Button, a TSN and NHL Network analyst. “I mean, if you’re going to take a defenseman No. 1, go ahead, take a defenseman, but make sure you get the best one.”
Button left Sweden more impressed with a skinny, superb-skating blueliner from Farjestads BK in Karlstad. His name was Jonas Brodin.
“In my estimation, in my view, it wasn’t close between Brodin and Adam Larsson,” said Button, the former Calgary Flames general manager and North Stars and Dallas Stars exec. “Wasn’t close, and I don’t think I’m going to be wrong on that one. And that’s no knock against Adam Larsson. That’s just how good Brodin is.”
Larsson fell to No. 4 and was taken by the New Jersey Devils. Brodin ended up going to the Wild at 10th overall — the third defenseman taken after the Boston Bruins selected Dougie Hamilton the pick before.
Brodin made an instant impact as a Wild rookie last season. As the NHL’s youngest defenseman at age 19, Brodin led all rookies in average ice time per game (23 minutes, 12 seconds) and became Norris Trophy runner-up Ryan Suter’s defense partner the instant he arrived the fourth game of the season in Detroit.
“In training camp, we were all watching him and it was like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ” Suter said. “Just the way he was moving the puck and the skating, we would ask the coaches, and they’d be like, ‘Yeah, that kid’s going to be here. That kid’s going to be a player.’
“Days later, he was. Me and [Jared Spurgeon] were struggling and then Spurg got hurt, and Brodin came and never left.”
One of the coaches Suter asked about Brodin was Darryl Sydor, an ex-defenseman who played 18 years in the NHL, won two Stanley Cups and also debuted as a 19-year-old. So Sydor knows how hard it is and remembers how many defensive faults he had to correct.
Brodin, on the other hand, arrived polished on the defensive side of the puck.
“We knew how poised he was, but then to see him come and play the minutes that he played with composure, I don’t want to say we were shocked, but it was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a whole other level to this kid,’ ” Sydor said.
Teammates were blown away by how easy Brodin made it look. Even in Saturday’s practice, Brodin routinely swiped the puck off the stick of established NHLers.
“The kid’s got the best stick in the world,” center Zenon Konopka said. “It’s almost like not fair the way he can move and what he adds. For a rookie to be playing against other team’s top lines every night, you don’t hear of that. This kid is going to be a stud, and I’m not saying five years from now. I mean soon.”
Button concurred. “This guy is a brilliant player. He’s so smart, so competitive,” he said. “I think he has a chance to be a real premier defenseman in the NHL, a guy that can control the game. With three years of pro experience now — two in Sweden — as he continues to mature, I have two words: Watch out.”
Brodin’s lone goal this season is to keep getting better and add an offensive element (11 points in 45 games last season) while “playing defense the way I did last year.”
He seems to be coming out of his shell. He talks and laughs more, hangs out with youngsters Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund constantly. He recently got his driver’s license and plans to buy a car (nothing flashy: “I don’t know so much about cars”). He’s felt comfortable enough to divulge the correct pronunciation of his first name, Jonas, is actually with a hard “J” (like Jacques).
“He’s quiet, he smiles, and he just plays the game. Pretty much zero maintenance,” Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said.
Suter doesn’t worry about the proverbial sophomore slump with Brodin, saying, “He’s got ice in his veins, he’s humble and not the type that puts himself up on a pedestal.”
Sydor isn’t worried either: “He just goes about his business and Suts has him under his wing, and what a great mentor he has. If Brods follows in his footsteps, he’s going to have a heck of a career.”