The Calgary Flames have high hopes for T.J. Brodie -- that's why they drafted him, after all -- but he's ahead of where many expected him to be after he was selected in the fourth round (No. 114) at the 2008 Entry Draft.
With a cast of big defensemen already in the Flames' farm system in 2008, the club wanted to add a smooth skating offensive defenseman, and Brodie certainly fit the bill. As a slight 170-pound 17-year-old, the Chatham, Ont., product posted 30 points in 68 games with the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit.
It's tough to find gems in the later rounds, but Brodie has the look of a future NHL player. He's currently doing his part to make an impression, along with a cast of other Calgary prospects, at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C.
"From the day we drafted him he's improved immensely in all areas," Flames Director of Scouting Tod Button said. "His base strength when we drafted him was his offensive play and his skating. ... That part of his game has gotten better as he has gotten older and more mature, but he's also improved in other areas of the game."
As you can guess, Brodie's point production has climbed as well. Last season, Brodie operated just shy of a point-per-game clip with Saginaw and Barrie (where was traded 19 games into the season). He finished with 49 assists and 56 points in 65 regular-season games, then had 15 points in 17 playoff games with Barrie.
"He has exceeded our expectations in where his is," Button said. "But you know what? Our mandate is to always find players, no matter what round, that can play. Is he ahead of where we thought he might be? Absolutely he is, that's good on the kid. It shows his commitment and his desire, and also that goes back to the scouts that recommended him highly. They saw something in him."
As for when fans in Calgary might witness that special "something" Brodie possesses, neither he nor the club will rule out the possibility of him making the NHL this season, though all signs point to a season with the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames' AHL affiliate.
"It's up to the kid," Button said. "It's how he performs. He's ready to turn pro. We expect him to at least play in the American League this year. (Abbotsford coach) Jimmy Playfair is a tremendous developer of young players, and more so defensemen. I think a guy like T.J. is really going to benefit from Jimmy's tutelage, in all aspects. Aspects that he's really good in, Jimmy will help make them better. In the areas that he's weak in and that he needs to improve to get to the NHL, Jimmy will really help him there."
Brodie said the NHL is the obvious goal, but he's OK with starting in the minors.
"Obviously Calgary would be the No. 1 choice," Brodie said, "but Abbotsford would definitely be a good spot for me, I think. Obviously I'd like to be in the pros and have a new experience, and hopefully get my game a little better.”
There's a crowded stable of highly touted defensemen in Abbotsford already knocking at the Flames' door, including Matt Pelech and John Negrin, but Brodie sees that as a positive.
"It's always good to be pushed," he said. "Knowing that you've got guys like that ahead of you makes you work that much harder to try to be at the same level as them, or even to try to pass them. The only way to look at it is as motivation to work harder."
From an organizational standpoint, Calgary would love to see Brodie add some bulk.
"He definitely has to get stronger," Button said. "He was a slighter kid when we drafted him. It takes time ... I think it's just a matter of age. He'll do it; it's just a matter of when he is able to keep that weight on."
Besides getting bigger and stronger, Brodie knows there are a few other areas of his game he needs to improve.
"My physical game, I've got to get that going better," he said. "I'm a small guy, so battles in the corners, playing the body, one-on-ones, two-on-ones. There's always room for improvement, no matter what area, that's the biggest thing."
With his high-end skill and track record for development, it wouldn't be all that shocking to think Brodie wouldn't arrive in Calgary ahead of schedule.
Author: Ryan Pinder | NHL.com Correspondent