Midway through his rookie campaign, center Gilbert Brule is showing that he can rise to the occasion when his coaches and team need him.
Currently, the Blue Jackets are missing center Sergei Fedorov and left wing Rick Nash due to injury, meaning Brule gets to work more on progressing in game situations by getting more ice time. In fact, he logged over 18 minutes of ice time in each of the last two games, at San Jose on Jan. 6 (18:08) and vs. St. Louis (18:12) Jan. 9, the most for him all season. His previous high came way back on October 21, 2006, when he played 17:37 at Pittsburgh.
“He’s got to play (more) because of a situation with injuries, he took advantage of it and that’s what you expect from young players,” Blue Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Hopefully he can continue to take advantage of it and if he keeps doing those things, then good things are going to happen for our hockey club.”
Getting the ice time is one thing, but as in most sports, it’s what you do with your time on the field, the court or in this case the ice, which can separate good players from average players. In the three games in which Brule has played more than 15 minutes of ice time, he has two goals and one assist, highlighted by a two point game at San Jose.
“The (San Jose) game for me was great, because with Sergei and Nash out – which is not good for our team – I got to play a bit more, which is nice for me and I got a couple points which was good,” Brule said.
“With those guys out, (the coaches) wanted me to step in their place and moved me up with Fritsche and Zherdev for most of the (San Jose) game. Hopefully I will be able to play some more in the upcoming games and I definitely took advantage of the opportunity I got. I might not get that opportunity all the time.”
Brule followed up his performance against the Sharks with a start vs. St. Louis, playing right wing with center Alexander Svitov and left wing Fredrik Modin. He drew two penalties and hit the left post with a second period shot. With multiple players out and a back-to-back, home and home series with Nashville this weekend, Brule will have to continue to play more minutes.
“They don’t tell me how much I’m going to play, but they’ve talked to me about bring energy to the team when I get on the ice,” Brule said. “No matter how much it is, just be a little cannonball, run guys, be a pest, work hard and give energy for this team.”
Hitchcock’s assessment of Brule after coaching him for the past month and a half is simple – he’s right where he needs to be.
“He’s on the learning curve as far as what it takes to play in the National Hockey League, so we’re pretty happy with him right now,” Hitchcock said. “I think the team already knows the future is bright for a player like him. He is willing to learn and he’s an easy player to coach and teach. We’re looking at good things down the road from him and whatever he gives us right now is a bonus.”
Equally, whatever unexpected time Brule gets on the ice in the upcoming games is a bonus to his individual development and could help him work ahead of the learning curve for the second half of the season.