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Journeyman defenceman T.J. Brennan looking for chance to stick with NHL team

NHL.com @NHL

TORONTO - Defenceman T.J. Brennan was preparing for life in the New York Islanders system when he received an all too familiar phone call.

The Islanders were trading Brennan to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of a four-player deal. Brennan was on the move again, heading to his fifth organization since March 2013.

Nearly three weeks later, Brennan is still feeling the effects of yet another trade.

"It definitely hurts me a bit in my pride column. It hurt my confidence a little bit," said Brennan, now playing with Chicago's American Hockey League affiliate. "I thought I deserved the chance to be up there, but I guess you've got to keep moving forward and maybe that just wasn't my break.

"There could be opportunity here in Chicago."

Despite being traded for the third time in 19 months, Brennan said nothing prepares you for that phone call.

"I don't think you ever really get used to it. Its' a crazy business," he said. "You definitely have a better understanding of that, but it's definitely something that always comes as a surprise.

"I think the most we can do as people is always try and look at the positives to every new situation. It's something that I'm going through right now is trying to stay positive and trying to keep looking forward and looking at things as opportunity."

The 25-year-old has a goal and five penalty minutes through the first five games of the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs, which included stops in Hamilton and Toronto over the weekend.

"It's definitely been a different path than I've expected over the past year or two and just trying to persevere through it and hopefully get some good breaks along the way," he said.

Originally a Buffalo Sabres second-round draft pick (31st overall in 2007), Brennan was dealt to the Florida Panthers in March 2013. At the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, the Panthers traded him to the Nashville Predators. As a restricted free agent, Brennan was not qualified by the Predators in the summer of 2013 allowing him to sign wherever he pleased.

Brennan signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer and enjoyed his most successful season as a professional.

The Willingboro, N.J., native had 24 goals and 72 points in 76 regular season games ??? seven points shy of the Marlies single-season record. For his efforts, Brennan was named recipient of the Eddie Shore Award as the league's top defenceman.

However, Brennan was unable to parlay his successful 2013-14 campaign into a more significant look at the next level.

"Obviously I want to think I'm an NHL defenceman, that's what everyone tells me and that's what I want to believe," he said. "But I still have some lessons to learn here in the AHL apparently and that's what I'm trying to do this year."

Part of what Brennan needs to work on is the defensive side of his game. Despite the numbers he produced last season, he still carried a minus-10 rating. He has been a minus player in each season since 2011-12, the year he got his first taste of NHL action with the Sabres.

IceHogs head coach Ted Dent had a meeting with Brennan following the trade to discuss what he had to work on to get back to the NHL where Brennan has four goals and 11 points in 40 games with the Sabres and Panthers.

"Basically it's his play away from the puck, not being so high-risk, going on end-to-end rushes sort of letting the puck do a little more work for him as well," said Dent.

Current Marlies head coach Gord Dinnen, who was in charge of the defencemen last season while Steve Spott was the head coach, says it's tough to watch a player who loves the game so much struggle to get to the next level.

"He had a learning curve, that he's had to sort of change his game - he's definitely an offensive player, just trying to get him a little more responsible defensively," said Dinnen. "Anybody that's as committed to the game as him, you'd like to see him get that opportunity."

Brennan is using former teammate Drew MacIntyre as motivation. MacIntyre didn't get his first NHL start until the 2013-14 season ??? as a 30-year-old in his 11th professional season.

"That's something that kind of keeps you modest through this," said Brennan. "You see guys that have had it way harder than you and deal with it probably better than you are. Hockey's a crazy business.

"You can't take things personal here and at the end of the day, you're still playing hockey for a living."

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