Before he joined the club last week, Hurricanes fans might have remembered Tim Brent for a couple of outstanding games he had against it as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
Safe to say, he remembered them too.
“When you’re going into free agency, you sit down and start to talk about what teams might possibly be interested,” said Brent. “My agent asked me, ‘If there was one team you thought you played really well against, which one would it be?’
“Carolina was at the top of my list.”
That’s part of why Brent topped the Hurricanes’ list as they prepared for the free agency period that began at noon on July 1.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Brent. “I was hoping for a team to come out, much like Carolina did, and say, ‘We want you here and think you can contribute.’
“As a hockey player, that’s the most important thing. It’s not like you’re the eighth guy on their list and they’re settling on you. I think they called at 12:01, so that’s really nice to know. It’s good to know that I’ll be there for the next couple of years.”
Over that span, Brent, whose new contract is the first multi-year agreement he’s had since his entry-level deal expired, can only hope to as feel as much at home in Raleigh as he did last season. The penalty-killing, faceoff-winning center the Hurricanes had hoped to land this offseason enjoyed a career-best offensive performance at the RBC Center on Jan. 24, notching 2 goals and an assist. He picked up another helper in the Maple Leafs’ March 16 visit, meaning that a good chunk of his 20 points on the season came at Carolina’s expense.
”I don’t know what it was, but I felt comfortable playing in that building,” he said. “I’m glad I’ll be able to do it at least 41 times next season.”
Back in Toronto, he made his presence known in other ways. With Carolina on a key two-man advantage, Brent, obviously hurting as time went on, blocked several shots at the point to help maintain the Leafs’ lead, one they would not relinquish in an eventual 3-0 win on Feb. 3.
“That’s something I’ve been doing for a while, but that penalty kill was a little more painful,” he recalled.
Brent’s new contract also marks his first one-way pact, having paid his dues in the minors for most of six seasons across four different organizations. The 27-year-old finally made his breakthrough last season, playing 79 games with Toronto.
As to what changed, Brent said it was a combination of opportunity and improvement.
”I had to kind of reinvent my game a little bit,” he said. “I was a pretty high scorer in junior and the minors, and then I kind of got put in a third-line checking role with lots of time on the penalty kill. I was just kind of willing to do whatever it took.”
Brent was indeed prolific in the minors, scoring at a near point-per-game pace over his last few seasons. That followed a junior career with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (where he was teammates with Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters) that saw him selected to a star-studded Canadian World Junior team that also featured fellow Carolina free-agent signee Anthony Stewart. He also played at the highest level at under-18 tournaments, having suited up alongside Eric Staal on a few separate occasions.
While his role at the highest level may not be as glamorous, Brent said that the more conventional schedule, easier travel and, perhaps most importantly, readily-available catering more than make up for it.
“I’m pretty sure NHL stands for ‘Never Hungry League,’” he said.
Though he’s now proven that he belongs and is happy in his role, feelings of content haven’t crept up just yet. For Brent, who some consider to be a power-play-capable, third-line center that could potentially do more than the Hurricanes are necessarily expecting from him right off the bat, the steady climb through the ranks may not be over.
“I’ve gotten better every year as a player, and I fully expect to improve next season,” he said. “Hopefully Carolina gets me on the upslope.”