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Brodie blossoming into top blueliner

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

Every game I just try to go out and do the best I can and I think part of it is just learning the game. Obviously offensively I feel like I can contribute a little bit more.TJ Brodie

CALGARY, AB -- Standing in the middle of the Calgary Flames dressing room on Saturday in front of one television camera and fielding questions from a pair of reporters, TJ Brodie skillfully skated through questions as effortlessly as he jumps into the rush.

Except one, that is.

How good do you feel you can be?

“I don’t really know the answer to that question,” Brodie said. “Every game I just try to go out and do the best I can and I think part of it is just learning the game. Obviously offensively I feel like I can contribute a little bit more.”

His coach admits its one of the rare problems presently plaguing Brodie’s game.

Bob Hartley, who has been behind the bench for the 23-year-old’s last 99 games, has worked hard in trying to get the blossoming defenceman to not only realize his full potential, but to believe how high his ceiling actually is.

More than shooting the puck more frequently, more than understanding defensive zone coverage, Hartley’s focus on Brodie has been trying to help him understand how good he can be.

“TJ doesn’t know how good he is,” Hartley said. “That’s going to grow with maturity, with experience. He’s still a very young player for us. You look at that third period (on Friday against Nashville), even on the bench the players were commenting. It was ‘wow’. He was dominant, dominant in his skating, in his puck moving.

“He can be a dominant NHL defenseman, that’s for sure.”

The 6-foot-1, 182-pound rearguard is starting to show that.

Brodie has already set new career highs with three goals, 14 assists and 17 points while playing in all of Calgary’s 52 games this season. His 23:57 of average ice time is also the most of his young career, rivaled only by the stretch he played after the departure of Jay Bouwmeester last season.

It’s in that run, he admitted, that gave him the belief he could handle the workload.

“(It) definitely helps,” Brodie admitted. “I think one of the main things is just confidence. It gave me the confidence you can play that much and that you’re capable of playing that role. Once you’ve had that, it makes the game a lot easier.”

Still, it’s been an adjustment on the other side of the puck.

Brodie’s increased ice time after Bouwmeester’s departure on has come with tougher assignments this season, often against the other team’s top lines. At times, he’s been tasked with shutting down the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby.

That isn't easy.

“I think the first 20 games playing against the guys I’ve played against this year, it took a little while to get used to,” said Brodie, currently riding a three-game point streak. “My main focus was trying to be solid defensively and I’ve been finding a way to do that and at the same time, trying to contribute offensively. Obviously the offensive side was less important at the start of the year than the defensive side.

“Now that I’ve learned the defensive side, I’m just trying to be more offensive.”

It’s been a focus of Hartley’s, too.

Getting Brodie to jump into the rush has never been an issue for the coach.

Getting him to pull the trigger with the puck on his stick has.

“I get him in the office many times for shooting pucks,” Hartley said. “This guy can shoot the puck. He has great speed. He can see the open ice. He’ll be a force for us. He’ll be a force. He’s part of our young group and like anyone, like anyone, Mikael Backlund early on in the year, look at him today, that’s part of learning.

“The last two, three 2-on-1’s, he never shoots the puck. (He) always wants to pass. I asked him this week why. I gave him examples and I said why. I said, that’s part of your learning. That’s part of maturing around this game that you have to read and hey, maybe I’m the guy in the best position to score, maybe my partner’s in the best position.

“Don’t pass the puck. If you feel that you’re in a position to be the performer on that play, lets be him. Lets do it.”

Its just part of the process with a young player, Hartley described.

One of the steps to discovering how good Brodie can really be.

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