Among the hallmarks of the Los Angeles Kings under GM Dean Lombardi has been the organization’s ability to develop good young talent, regardless of the round they were taken at the NHL Draft (or not taken in at all, as was the case of free agent Martin Jones). One of the names that could soon be joining that list shortly is Jonny Brodzinski of St. Cloud State, a freshman when originally selected in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft.
Much like current Kings’ rookie Nick Shore, Brodzinski is from a hockey family. He’s the oldest of four brothers, with one sibling, Michael, already playing at the University of Minnesota and another one, Easton, committed to play at St. Cloud starting in 2016-17.
Michael and Jonny could end up quite a story in the years to come. Naturally competitive as brothers, they currently play at rival colleges. Adding to the drama, they were taken just eight picks apart at the 2013 Draft, with Michael going to one of the Kings’ biggest rivals, the San Jose Sharks.
Like any older brother, Jonny also seems to relish rubbing a little salt in the wound whenever he can.
“My dad bleeds cardinal red and black,” he said, referring to the colors of St. Cloud. “I think he’s only been to probably four or five [Minnesota] Gopher games this year, but has been to almost every single one of the St. Cloud games. When we play each other, he’ll wear my St. Cloud jacket I got my freshman year to the games with a Gopher t-shirt underneath. He says he has Gopher stuff on, but he’s a Husky.”
Truth be told, dad Mike is actually a little bit of both. He started his own collegiate hockey career at Minnesota, before transferring to St. Cloud as a sophomore to play under the legendary Herb Brooks.
Jonny, now a junior, always knew he wanted to be a Husky and has had an unforgettable time being on the team.
“Growing up, this is what I watched,” he said. “It wasn’t the Gophers for me, it was St. Cloud hockey. It’s almost like a second home. Committing here just felt right. Then, my freshman year was kind of the start of something really good here. Our arena was renovated and then, all of a sudden, St Cloud just kind of took off. We made it to the Frozen Four that year and then we made it back to the tournament again last season.”
Fitting in from the start wasn’t as easy as Brodzinski may have made it look, though, averaging most than 20 goals per season over his three years at SCSU.
“Coming from Blaine, [Minn.], playing high school hockey, I was the top scorer and that was a different role,” he said. “Then, going to Fargo [in the USHL], I played more of a third or fourth line role; I killed penalties. Really, I was just a grinder, but it showed me the defensive side of the game and I think that helped me out so much coming into St. Cloud. My first year in college, I led the country in plus-minus, so I think that was the big switch from [the USHL] and going into college – seeing how much defense you really need.”
Brodzinski hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down. Even with buddies Dowd and Gravel having moved on to the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL this season, and his Husky team hovering around .500, the 21-year-old forward has still continued to rack up the goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Just last week, he was named one of three finalists for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Player of the Year.
“We’re happy that Jonny has had a good year and believe he is right where he should be, as far as notoriety,” said Nelson Emerson, a key member of the Kings’ Player Development Group. “We knew they were losing some big pieces to their team and this would be a year in which Jonny would be pushed into that leadership role. He has done that and he has provided that team with some spark offensively and scored some big time goals for them, some important goals. As an organization, when [college] players get into their junior and senior years, we expect them to take that kind of role with their career. We want them to make sure when they’re going back to be a student athlete at a college that they give their development everything they have. He’s done what we have asked of him and he’s done what he said he would do. Good for him.”
St. Cloud has a shot at making the field of 16 teams who will compete in this year’s NCAA playoffs. Their road to achieving that goal began with a two-game sweep over Omaha, on the road, in the opening round of last weekend’s NCHC tournament. Next up, they play the University of North Dakota in the semis this Friday.
“In the first game last weekend, we didn’t play as well as we should have,” Brodzinski explained. “I feel like we kind of stole that game from them. They out-chanced us by a really wide margin, but our goalie held us in there, and then we finally got one in OT and that confidence carried over to the second game… [Looking ahead], we match up well against North Dakota. We’re both up and down teams. We both like transition hockey… We just have to play solid defensively and chip in our chances.”
Sometime in the months ahead, whenever his season finally ends, Brodzinski will have a decision to make—stay for one more year or turn pro and begin working toward his ultimate goal, earning a spot on the Kings’ NHL roster.
“Right now, I really have no idea what’s going to be going on for next year,” he noted. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted, to play at the next level, but we’ll come to that bridge when we have to. Eventually, I’ll talk with my coach, and then we’ll see from there. My dad will be a big influence on that too, but he’s kind of letting me do my own thing right now and we’ll cross that when it happens.”
Being consistent is tops on his mind at the moment. Brodzinski believes if he can just keep doing what he’s been doing since arriving on campus, it will be best for him personally, as well as the team.
“Just keep playing the style of game that I’m known to play,” he said. “I like being the first guy in on every forecheck, back-checking hard, doing the hard things most guys don’t like to do. They think it’s a little bit tougher, going to the front of the net, but it helps that I have a pretty good shot.”
A good shot? Many will tell you he has much more, along the lines of it being a great shot.
“One of the reasons we get so excited among the Development Staff is because a guy like Glen Murray, who was a goal scorer at the NHL level, gets really excited when he sees Jonny’s release and his ability to shoot,” remarked Emerson. “We feel like we have something to work with here because he has an elite-level release. Now, it’s different than Jeff Carter, who is speed and scoring, together. Jonny is a shooter. He will find seams and find spots; he thinks shot first. He wants to score. He is a shooter, so his first thought is, ‘I’m going to try and score. I’m going to put pucks on the net.’ He’s even a little different than Tyler [Toffoli]. He’s really starting to distribute the puck and move pucks around and be a play maker, as well.”
All of those points were separately echoed by Mike O’Connell, who is now in his ninth season with the Kings’ Development Group and previously spent six seasons as Vice President and General Manager of the Boston Bruins.
“Coming off the wing, with that shot he has, he has a terrific release,” O’Connell said. “In the offensive zone, that’s where you quickly [spot him on the ice] because he scores. When he’s at wing, you might notice him more [than at center] because he jumps into the hole, and bang, the puck is gone.”
Additionally, O’Connell says the Kings’ management group is pleased with Brodzinzki’s ongoing development.
“He’s progressing very well. His strength and conditioning are excellent. He works hard at his craft and where he needs to be. He has the necessary ingredients to be a good pro,” O’Connell shared. “He has good sized legs, good stability, good center of gravity, balance, competitive, and he has that great release. He’s really defined his game, I think. All facets of his game have improved. There is no reason to ever think that that is not going to continue. He does work hard at it.”
The Kings appear to have a clear idea of where they expect Brodzinski to play once he turns pro.
“We feel he is a winger,” Emerson said, without hesitation, even though Brodzinski was listed as a center when drafted. “He has the ability to get open, put pucks on the net, and let the centerman find him.”
Away from the rink, Brodzinski describes himself as a kind soul, something he says he inherited from his mom. “Most of my dad’s buddies love to joke, ‘You didn’t get that niceness from your dad, that’s for sure,’” quipped the young forward.
On the ice, he warns you to watch out for his tenacity and work ethic.
“I want to be the best I could possibly be,” he stated, with a slight mix of bravado and revelation. “I feel like I haven’t made it yet, so every day, I’m trying to get better and trying to get to that next level, which is playing in the NHL."
At the very least, he has Emerson’s full support, who reminds anybody listening - don’t sleep on the kid simply because he was a fifth-round selection.
“What we saw when we got him was a goal scorer,” remarked the former NHL winger. “Jonny has the ability to score goals and he has that body of a goal scorer. He has a great release, he has quick hands, and he loves to score. Those types of guys just love to shoot pucks in the net; that’s how he is. He was drafted where he was, but every year he has slightly gotten a little better. He’s progressed; he’s a hockey player. He just wants to play hockey.”
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - previously named Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports and the Best Sports Blog by LA Weekly. As a past member of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, Hoven has voted on the top NHL Awards. He has been active over the years on the NHL Radio Network, where he co-hosts the West Coast Bias show, and on Twitter as well (@MayorNHL).
Photos via St. Cloud State University Public Relations