With two games to go in the regular season, the Minnesota Wild currently sit 7th in the Western Conference with 53 points—three ahead of 9th place Detroit. The acquisitions of $98 Million men Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have been huge for Minnesota, however, the promotion of two rookies in Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin have also been major factors in the team’s success. Could Minnesota have a legitimate Calder Trophy contender?
When Wild GM Chuck Fletcher announced the team’s selection as 2011 NHL Entry Draft host at 10th overall, very few fans felt the winds of change blow in their favor. Jonas Brodin? A defenseman? Brodin was a string bean at 6’1” and 166-pounds and had notched just four assists in 42 games with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League—far from impressive. Analysts mollycoddled Wild fans with statements like “a smart, safe pick” and “will play in the league for a long time to come”, while throwing in less appealing ones like, “needs to get bigger and stronger”, “no physical presence whatsoever and not a guy that puts up big points” and “not an offensive defenseman”.
I can almost guarantee you a layer of four letter words hovered in the stratosphere over the State of Hockey for nearly the rest of the evening. Today, those words are long gone, and many a crow has been eaten as Brodin has proved many people wrong with his unbelievable play in the intensity that the lockout-shortened season has produced. Since coming over to North America, the Swedish Sensation has potted four goals and 11 assists for 15 points and a plus-8 rating in 52 games between Houston and Minnesota, including two goals and nine assists for 11 points and a defensive corps-best plus-6 rating in 43 games for the Wild. He also leads all NHL rookies in ice time with an average of 23:15 per game.
Brodin, the league’s youngest defenseman at the tender age of 19, is making waves in a huge way. Most rookie defensemen receive sheltered minutes in safer situations and don’t face the kind of offensive pressure that Brodin is often thrown into. He plays nearly two and a half minutes per game on the penalty kill, more than he plays on the power play, and is a major minute-muncher on the top pairing with Norris Trophy contender Ryan Suter.
The first of two first round picks for Minnesota in 2011, Brodin shows why he was drafted so high every time he hops the boards. His skating is unparalleled, his vision is pristine, his passes are crisp and precise and his hockey I.Q. is off the charts. But the best part is watching him make opposing skaters look stupid with his defensive poise and prowess. Whether it’s breaking up a pass, disrupting the play with his stick-work or a quick spin that finds the opposing skater checking nothing but air into the glass, there’s always something he does that takes your breath away. The icing on the cake is seeing him transform into a real offensive weapon on the back end. The “clap” of his slap shot is quickly becoming music to the ears of Wild fans that were told they were receiving a guy with no physical presence whatsoever that doesn’t put up big points.
This kid doesn’t play like a rookie and is quickly drawing comparisons from around the NHL to legendary Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. The Calder Trophy is not the friend of the rookie defenseman. It never has been, nor ever will be. However, Brodin has certainly proven his worth as a legitimate NHL player and one of the best defenders in the league. He may not win the Calder, but it won’t be long before he starts becoming a serious threat to Suter, Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson as the best defenseman in the NHL.