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Brodin earning place among elite young defenders

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 2:18 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

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Brodin earning place among elite young defenders
Ryan Suter paired with Shea Weber in Nashville, but he's got a new partner in Minnesota, and 19-year-old Jonas Brodin looks like a future Norris Trophy candidate as a rookie.

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.

Jonas Brodin
Defense - MIN
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 9
SOG: 41 | +/-: 6
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.

KEVIN'S TAKE


"I'll say this about Jonas Brodin -- when I watch this guy, he doesn't look like a 19-year-old playing against men. That really shows me how good he is. Next to playing goal, defense is the hardest position to play, and certainly learn, at the NHL level. In saying that, this guy looks extremely comfortable with the puck on his tape, looks comfortable in board battles and net-front battles, and he makes sound plays offensively. He's got a lot of composure. He doesn't get rattled or get scrambly and plays good positional hockey. You put all that together for a guy that is 19 years old and playing D, that is pretty darn impressive.

"We all know that Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were Batman and Robin as the best pairing in the League the last few years along with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The fact that Brodin can step in right away and play with Suter, that he has enough hockey intellect to be able to read off Suter in situations in all three zones -- that tells you everything you need to know about him right there.

"I've been really impressed with him. Anybody who I talk to in the Minnesota organization, the first thing they say is, 'Weekesy, have you seen this kid Brodin? Are you watching him? Isn't he awesome?' That's not even from [general manager] Chuck Fletcher -- it is more from guys that he plays with. They've got some really good hockey players on that team, but for guys to be saying that and it to be at the top of their mind when I talk to them on the phone or via text, it tells you the way guys on the team think about him."

-- Kevin Weekes spent 11 seasons as an NHL goaltender for seven teams and now serves as an analyst for the NHL Network and contributor to NHL.com.

"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."

Quote of the Day

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— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets