|Panthers defenseman TJ Brennan (Getty Images)
For defenseman TJ Brennan, he's really appreciating his opportunity with the Florida Panthers.
After being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on March 15, the blueliner has posted five points in 10 games. In his time in Buffalo (21 games over two seasons) he had just two goals to his credit.
With injuries to the Panthers back end including a season-ending hip injury to captain Ed Jovanovski, the Panthers made the deal with the Sabres just prior to the trade deadline to acquire Brennan, a second round pick in 2008. He's responded with the points while increasing his average ice tim by two minutes per game (14:48 to 16:52).
"Any opportunity, especially at this level, you have got to capitalize and be appreciative of it," said Brennan. "You can't take anything for granted at this level so right now I'm just trying to play confident, simplify and show it was worth them giving me some opportunity here."
Where the blueliner seems to be really helping out is on the Panthers recharged power play. Brennan along with fellow blueliners Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov have played huge roles as the team has scored on 50% of their chances over the last five games, posting seven goals as the team has went 4-1 in that span. While Campbell is the team's power play quarterback the majority of the time, Brennan and Kulikov have presented the shot catalyst to their effective power play of late.
Take last Tuesday as an example. Brennan was heavily responsible for giving the Panthers a two-goal lead in Tampa Bay as his point shot blasts found the back of the net past Mathieu Garon with Tomas Kopecky and Greg Rallo getting a piece of his shot along the way for the goals on the man advantage.
"I think the way TJ and Dmitry (Kulikov) shoot the puck, it forces your opponent to respect the shot that may open up some other options," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "There's no deception about it. They have the ability to shoot and create goals or rebounds from there."
Providing offense from along the blue line is something that Brennan enjoys doing. Ever since he was young, he thought about the position from a different perspective, focusing on the offense but not the defense.
"Some guys that just have that offensive instinct and I'd like to think that I'm one of them," said Brennan. "I tend to think like a forward, try to jump into the play. I want to help out offensively."
But the coaching staff isn't just expecting an extra forward on the ice and that's where Brennan has focused his efforts on in his first games in South Florida.
"It's definitely something that comes with time and responsibility being reliable in your own end is a huge part of the game," said Brennan. "A lot of responsiblity as an offensive defenseman. So making sure you take care of the little things first before you go and jump in on offense...Those opportunities come during the game and you have to take advantage of them when they come but you have to make sure you're taking care of your own end first."
Finding himself in the press box more than he would have liked during his time in Buffalo, Brennan says that he found that being a young defenseman, one couldn't be complacent with just making it to the NHL. And even in his first few games with Florida, he's seen a need for improvement, even on his solid yet growing start with the club.
"I'm really starting to work hard and realize how much hard work has to go into everything,” said Brennan. “Nothing is going to be given to me.”
It's certainly a welcome change.
"Everyone is making me feel really comfortable, trying to fit in as quickly as possible but hockey wise things are going well," said Brennan. "I'm trying to establish myself here…hopefully I let things fall into place, really try to take advantage of the opportunities given to me."