Brodin earning place among elite young defenders

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 2:18 PM
Dan Myers  - Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- By any measure, Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin is having a solid season.

Throw in the fact he's a 19-year-old, and what Brodin is doing is almost unprecedented.

Though his offensive numbers won't blow anyone away, folks who have been around the NHL a long time are amazed at the things Brodin does on a nightly basis -- not because they show up in the box score, but because they've helped put the Wild back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs chase for the first time in five years.

Brodin has two goals and seven assists this season, not eye-popping numbers. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear why people in Minnesota believe they have one of the game's truly elite young defensemen.

Young, in this case, is not subjective: Brodin is the youngest defenseman in the NHL.

His minutes-per-game has been on a steady increase all season, and at 22:54, Brodin leads all rookies by more than a minute per contest.

In 36 games played, he's a plus-6. Since 2000, three rookies have finished the season playing more than 22 minutes a game while being a plus-player. Brodin is on the verge of making it four.

He does this every night while playing with all-star Ryan Suter on the Wild's top defensive pairing against the opponent's best players.

Brodin's secret?

"He makes the routine plays look simple," Suter said. "It's hard for some guys to make them look so easy. He's one of those guys that does it. It's just a big credit to him."

Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson, regarded as one of the League's best defensive assistants, has coached in the NHL since 1988. Throughout his career, he's coached, and coached against, some of the best young defensemen the League has developed.

"Not this young," Wilson said.

Wilson credits Brodin's time in the Swedish Elite League for preparing him to play big minutes right away as a rookie.

"They prepared him well," Wilson said. "He picked up the nuances of defending, some of the reads. For a defenseman, he's way ahead in that part of the game. That's the part of the game that usually limits a young defenseman's ice time.

"He was above the curve there, and that has allowed him to keep moving because he's not a liability back there, he's an asset."

For Suter, who spent several years with the Nashville Predators playing with one of the League's best defensemen, Shea Weber, playing with a rookie took a bit of an adjustment. Suter, who joined the Wild last summer, was adjusting to a new team and was in the midst of his own struggles when the Wild  paired him with Brodin for the first time in early February.

Together, the two have flourished.

Suter is widely considered to be a Norris Trophy candidate. Brodin is a dark horse for the Calder Trophy.

"Not a lot of guys get an opportunity to play big minutes like that," Suter said. "For him to be given that opportunity, it says a lot about the [Wild organization]. They trust him. It says a lot about how we're playing. He wouldn't be playing that much if we weren't playing well. He's making the most of his opportunity, and he's going to be here a long time because of it."

Brodin said playing with a veteran has been beneficial to his development and has made playing bigger minutes a lot easier.

This being Brodin's first season in North America, he's also had to make adjustments to the size of the rink and the speed of the game -- two aspects that go hand-in-hand for any young player coming over from Europe.

"He's one of the best defensemen in the NHL," Brodin said of Suter. "He helps me too. I learn a lot on ice and off ice, he's a good guy to play with."

In many ways, especially in regards to their personalities, Suter and Brodin are very similar. Brodin's English improves every day, just like his game, but he's still learning how to deal with the increased media attention he's gotten as his stock has risen.

Suter is well-respected in the room, an alternate captain from the day he signed his 13-year, $98 million contract on July 4, 2012, but is most definitely a lead-by-example type. Still, Suter hasn't shied away from helping his partner whenever he can. Because Brodin is young, he seemingly makes strides on a nightly basis.

"It's fun to watch that," Suter said. "We talk all the time, about different plays, different situations. Every game he seems to get it more and more."

Wilson said, "[Suter] lends something to his game. He might add something, or suggest something. Ryan's been excellent for him and Jonas is a very quick learner. He picks things up really quick."

All of this has been extremely beneficial for a franchise that's never really had a truly elite defenseman. Now, so it seems, it has two.

"The sky is the limit for him," Suter said of Brodin. "He's got a lot of potential. As good as he wants to be, he can be if he keeps working hard."

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