It is January 27 and the Wild is on its first road trip of the season, while recently recalled rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin
is in his second NHL game. The opponent? The St. Louis Blues in a nationally televised matchup on NBC.
About midway through the third period, Blues’ star T.J. Oshie, rushes with the puck through the neutral zone with a full head of steam. Upon entering the Wild zone, Oshie is met by Brodin skating backwards.
Brodin has matched Oshie’s speed and positioned himself so the Blues’ forward is not able to enter the slot; instead he is pinned between Brodin and the boards. The Wild defenseman cuts off Oshie so he is unable to get a shot off or pass to a teammate. Then with a simple poke check, Brodin takes the puck away and regains possession for the Wild.
The whole sequence was over in just a few second, and probably won’t show up in any top-10 highlight reels, but it was subtle brilliance.
“You can’t get an appreciation for watching him on TV,” said Wild center and Brodin’s No. 1 fan, Zenon Konopka. “He does so many things away from the puck and his position is just so good you need to see him live.”
“If he played in Toronto or Montreal they would be all over him about being in the Calder Trophy race.”
Selected with the 10th-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Brodin has had quite the season so far. The Swede played just eight games for the Houston Aeros during the NHL lockout, before he suffered a broken collarbone that required surgery and a 10-week layoff.
After those long two and a half months out of the lineup, Brodin played just one game for Houston before being called up to the Wild to make his NHL debut on January 25 in Detroit against the Red Wings.
“It was tough to start off the year to play [eight] games at Houston and then get injured,” Brodin said. “It was a hard time to be out of hockey for so long.”
The 19-year old played two games in the NHL before Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo saw he had something special and paired Brodin on the first line with Ryan Suter.
It took exactly one practice for Brodin to leave an impression on the Wild star.
“He’s steady and he doesn’t make mistakes,” Suter told WildTV after that Jan. 29 practice. “You couldn’t tell he’s a rookie by watching him, he knows the game well.”
Fast forward to March 9 in Nashville.
With a little over five minutes left in the first period against the Predators, Nashville’s Craig Smith streaked up ice with the puck into the Wild zone. As Smith — a right-handed player — approached the slot he tried to drag the puck around Brodin with his left hand.
Brodin didn’t hesitate. The 19-year old just got down on one knee to stretch out and wrapped his stick up around Smith’s body to poke check and win the puck. In the blink of an eye Brodin had nullified the opponent’s scoring chance and also won possession of the puck back for the Wild.
Watching Brodin skate it’s easy to forget he is only a 19-year old rookie. His poise and calmness on the ice makes him play as if he was a 10-year veteran.
“To see that poise in a 19-year old defenseman is unique, and I think it can be credited to the character of the kid,” Yeo said. “He plays the type of game that allows him to be consistent.”
“He’s very talented especially with his skating ability and he’s a very good defender. His execution and the way he plays with the puck, he takes what the other team gives him.”
If a players’ game was solely judged by statistics, Brodin wouldn’t stand out. The 6-foot-1, slight-of-build defenseman has three assists, and was still searching for his first career NHL goal until March 14 when the Wild were playing the Avalanche.
In a 4-on-4 situation in the Colorado zone, Suter passed to Brodin. Brodin took the puck, moved in and flicked a wrist shot from the left faceoff zone past Avs’ goaltender Semyon Varlamov. It was a special moment for the rookie as his parents were in attendance to see their son play in the NHL for the first time.
“I played with [Erik] Karlsson last year [in Ottawa],” Konopka said. “They’re different players, but both from Sweden. Arrogance and confidence are way different and you can see Erik Karlsson has confidence and you can start to see Brodin gain confidence, he’s not there yet.”
That confidence can be seen in Brodin’s game after his first goal. He has been more assertive in the offensive zone and looking to shoot when given the opportunity where in the earlier part of the season he would look to pass.
His aggressiveness paid off again on March 18 as the Wild took on the Canucks in Vancouver. Down 1-0 in the second period in Rogers Arena, the Wild flooded the offensive zone.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard passed the puck to Dany Heatley who drew two defenders to him. Heatley spotted the open Brodin and quickly passed the puck. Brodin then unleashed a laser slap shot that sailed through a crowd in front of the net and picked the top corner over Roberto Luongo for Brodin’s second goal.
The Wild would then add goals from Charlie Coyle and Matt Cullen to win in Rogers Arena for the first time since 2009.
Another part of Brodin’s game is shown in the situations Yeo trusts him in. The rookie is averaging more than 22 minutes per game, one of only five other teen defenseman (Tyler Myers, Drew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Cam Fowler and Justin Faulk) to do so since 2000. He is also often pitted against the opponent team’s top forwards and on the ice for the game’s most critical moments.
“Every game [Torrey Mitchell and me] look at each other and go, ‘Oh jeez! Did you see our kid?’" Konopka said.
"You think you’d get to a level where it’s going to become normal, but he keeps becoming better, that’s the scary thing.” Konopka continued. “There’s no player like him, he does so many things well. He’s a lot better player from Game One to Game 10 to Game 20.”