If anyone in the league has had a quietly brilliant season, it’s Minnesota Wild rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin. While the Wild are tromping up the NHL ladder, claiming the number-one position in the Northwest on Monday night, the team’s play has been heavily dependent on its defense-first game plan.
Brodin is undoubtedly a keystone on that Minnesota brick wall. He’s earned that right as a 22-plus minute per game player. He leads all rookies in the league in time on ice.
The real question in this lockout-shortened myopic season is what Brodin can be as an NHL defenseman in the long run. Just 19 years old and still working to fill out his 175-185 lb. frame, the young blue liner has never played a professional season longer than 49 games.
Despite his inexperience, Brodin is already drawing hesitant comparisons to the league’s greats, including ever-so-hesitant whispers of Nicklas Lidstrom. It is certainly understandable to be hesitant in comparing a 19-year-old rookie to one of the league’s greatest of all time, even for superstitious fear of jinxing the poor kid.
Some analysts have been less hesitant, though. In his Monday night post-game, former Wild fan favorite Wes Walz threw in his two cents. What did he have to say? Look for Brodin’s name to be on the Calder Trophy list of contenders at the end of the season – that’s how good this kid is.
What is it that Brodin is doing on the ice to earn this praise? The basics.
Brodin is arguably the most positionally adept rookie defenseman in the league. He gets to the right places on the ice at the right time. So far this has led to the Swedish prospect earning a spot on Minnesota’s top pairing as a shut-down defenseman. He breaks up play after play because he cuts off shooting lanes and stands up opposing forwards on break-ins.
The Swedish prospect is also fleet of foot – Monday night’s game saw him get all but taken out of a play on a pinch at the Vancouver blue line; instead of a Kostitsyian effort hobbling back to the bench, Broding covered the neutral zone in ice-digging strides to catch up to the play and break up a three on two opportunity, tipping a shot over Niklas Backstrom’s cage.
His most impressive quality thus far, though, is his situational awareness. This ties back to his solid positional play, but it’s more than that. This is why Brodin gets repetitions on the Wild power-play – he knows where to move the puck, and also where to find open space to get himself open.
As Brodin soaks up the NHL experience his ice time and the crunched schedule are affording him, the game is clearly slowing down for him. He’s gaining confidence and trusting his shooting ability. His first two goals in the league were both textbook; the rip against Colorado and the blast against the Canucks Monday night are perfect examples of his dependability in tight spaces on the opposing blue line, his ability to get open, his vision to see the shooting lane and his confidence to let loose the wrister or clap a sharp three-quarter slapper to the far post.
While the Lidstrom comparison is premature, Walz offered another take.
“Arguably, he’s a clone of Ryan Suter,” Walz said.
Physically, Brodin has some catching up to do. In style of play, though, the similarities are there. Brodin and Suter control play from their own end of the ice. It’s what has made Minnesota’s breakout and transition game so important to the squad. And while Brodin is contributing small offerings in the points category, Suter is on fire. It would be hard to say either one has benefited more from the pairing.
If Brodin continues to develop at this pace, Walz is right on track:
“The sky’s the limit for this kid.”