It has not taken Eric Brewer long to make a big impression.
The veteran of more than 700 NHL games has been a physical, intelligent force on defense since he was acquired in a trade from St. Louis February 18.
“He’s a horse out there,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “He’s what we needed and more.
“What I like is his ability to stop the opponent and, himself, get the puck and go with it. Usually, when you stop an opponent you need support to come help you to retrieve the puck. That’s outstanding and he’s got great mobility. It’s an amazing addition for us.”
Brewer had five hits in the big 4-3 shootout victory over Chicago Wednesday to give him 31 in his first nine games for the Lightning, mostly playing against the opponent’s top lines and killing penalties.
The transition has been smooth for the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Brewer, who is playing for his fourth team after he was the fifth pick in the 1997 draft by the New York Islanders.
“The guys have been really good about it and the coaches have been patient,” Brewer said. “[The system] is talked about here more than any place I’ve been. But it is different and there are some adjustments. It’s just a matter of practicing a little bit and getting used to a partner, what certain guys like to do and how they play.”
Brewer, 31, played a bit with Randy Jones early on and lately has been paired with veteran Mattias Ohlund, who he played against for years in the Western Conference.
The hits make the highlight films, but Brewer’s positioning has been just as important. One example was against Washington on Monday, when he forced a flying Alex Ovechkin to the outside where he could only get off a low-percentage shot.
“He’s a solid guy,” Ohlund said. “You know what he’s going to give you each and every night. He comes to play every game and he’s been a great fit in our locker room.”
Brewer, born in Vernon, British Columbia, made his mark with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League, which produced Lightning forward Dana Tyrell and is currently led by 2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly.
After a strong season with Prince George in 1996-97, in which he had 29 points and 81 penalty minutes, the Islanders chose him just after picking Roberto Luongo fourth. He played one more season in the WHL, producing 33 points and representing Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Brewer moved right into the lineup as a 19-year old with the Islanders in 1998-99. He spent 25 games in the minor league the next season, but did not lose his focus.
“You know you can play,” Brewer said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it, sticking with it, making the plays that you can make and not pretending you’re someone you’re
It never quite worked out on Long Island for Brewer. He was traded to Edmonton at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft with Josh Green and a second-round pick for veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. Soon, his game took off.
Brewer had seven goals and 14 assists his first season in Edmonton and had a team-best plus/minus rating of plus-15. Brewer had 100 points in four seasons with the Oilers, made the Canadian Olympic team in 2002 and was named to the 2003 all-star game.
“At that point in my career, it was a real good thing for me,” said Brewer, who has played for Team Canada in five World Championships and a World Cup. “Edmonton was a real good hockey environment to go into and they were great at working with young players and teaching you how to be a pro.”
After the NHL lockout, Brewer ended up being part of a deal that sent Chris Pronger to Edmonton. Brewer played parts of six seasons with the Blues, his best in 2006-07 when he had 29 points with a career-high 23 assists.
In the final year of a four-year contract, Brewer waived his no-trade clause to accept a trade to the Lightning for a 2011 third-round pick and defense prospect Brock Beukeboom. The Blues captain came to the Lightning as a two-way defenseman, who could help in a lot of different areas.
“I’ve tried to do a little bit of everything,” Brewer said, describing his style. “It keeps me sharp. Trying to be a well-rounded player keeps your awareness on the ice and makes you constantly try to improve things.”
He also came to the Lightning healthier than he has been in a while. He played in only 87 games the previous two seasons and has a chance to suit up for a playoff game for the first time since 2003.
“It’s helpful to go out there and feel good, to have a full summer and start the season with the guys on time,” Brewer said. “It completely changes the way that your season goes.”
Brewer has shown ability on offense with 12 shots and a big goal at Boston, his career-high ninth of the season.
He has been depended on as a shut-down guy, averaging 21:13, just three seconds behind Victor Hedman’s team high.
“He’s our No. 1 defenseman,” Boucher said. “I like his attitude. He’s a confident guy, a humble guy that’s seen a lot and can bring a lot to the players.”