I'm not a big fan of putting names out there but obviously I think that TJ Brodie has been my most pleasant surprise. He's been unbelievable to us. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- He entered the season sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.
TJ Brodie certainly didn't exit that way, though.
Since being scratched in the season opener for the Calgary Flames on January 20th, Brodie emerged as the most pleasant of surprises over the course of the 2013 National Hockey League campaign for coach Bob Hartley.
"I'm not a big fan of putting names out there but obviously I think that TJ Brodie has been my most pleasant surprise," Hartley said. "He's been unbelievable to us."
Hartley scratched him in the season's first game on January 20th. When he did break into the lineup, Brodie was started at 14 minutes a game. By the time Calgary's season concluded on April 26th, the 22-year-old was in the mid-20's.
That boost in responsibility, according to Brodie, played a big role in his rapid development.
"It’s always good to get the extra ice time," he said. "To get better you have to get the ice. Fortunately, I was able to get the ice time this year. It just helps in all aspects of the game.
"I got the opportunity and the coaches put me out there. I just tried to make the best of it."
That chance came at the expense of Jay Bouwmeester, who was dealt from the Flames to the St. Louis Blues a day before the April 3rd trade deadline. Bouwmeester's departure opened up over 24 minutes of action a night.
Brodie jumped at the chance to tackle some of those extra seconds.
"I knew after that he got traded, he was a guy who ate a lot of minutes up," he said. "I knew there was going to be minutes and I’d have to earn them and get the respect of the coaches and be able to get out there."
He's earned more than the respect of Hartley and the coaching staff.
Brodie earned himself a trip to the 2013 IIHF World Championship as a member of Canada's entry.
"Obviously it’s exciting to get the opportunity to get asked to go over," Brodie said. "I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun time and a good experience."
The decision from Steve Yzerman's Canadian entry to include Brodie probably didn't come as much of a shock to Mark Giordano, who didn't hesitate to sing the praises of his fellow blueliner.
"The sky’s the limit for him," he said of Brodie. "I think he can be a top-two defenceman in the NHL. He’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves."
"I can’t say enough good things about him. Hopefully next year is more of the same."
As much as this season has been important to Brodie's development, next season will be key to ensuring the 6-foot-1, 182-pound rearguard is able to maximize his potential.
"I know that you can’t take it for granted," Brodie said. "No matter the situation, I’ve got to come out and earn a spot and play well and do my job."
With heightened expectations come increased pressure for the third-year pro who is a restricted free agent at season's end. Brodie's development this season came in a virtually stress-free environment with no assumptions on a team whose playoff aspirations fell short earlier than in previous years.
He's ready to welcome that additional pressure, Brodie said.
"It’s easier to play without any pressure," he said. "At the same time pressure is a good thing too. It forces you to be accountable and to not make mistakes."
And if a mistake or two does slip out, Brodie knows that he won't be starting the season as a healthy scratch.
Instead, he'll start it as perhaps the most integral piece on the Flames blueline next year.