2012-13 Reasonable Expectations: TJ Brodie

Kent Wilson
September 06 2012 11:59AM

 

 

Once the season starts, the Flames will have a couple of rookies who will garner a lot of attention: Sven Baertschi and Roman Cervenka. That will mean the roster's lone sophomore - TJ Brodie - will likely slide under the radar undetected. That's not entirely a bad thing for the 22-year old defender.

Although he exploded onto the season as a 20-year old a couple years ago with a precocious point-per-game preseason performance, Brodie's development into an NHLer since that point has been calmer and less attention grabbing. He made the club that year on the back of a few hot exhibition games but was soon demoted once it was clear he had a few areas to work on and instead spent the season on the farm as one of the Heat's primary rearguards.

It took Brodie until November last season to be called up. He didn't replicate that singular exhibition performance, but it became clear his overall defensive game had improved enough that 3rd pairing duties weren't above his head. Injuries to Mark Giordano, Derek Smith and Chris Butler plus Sutter's disdain for Anton Babchuk (and to some degree, Cory Sarich) ensured Brodie was a regular in the line-up until March 9th, when he was concussed in a game versus the Jet (an injury that erased the rest of his season). 

Expectations and Comparables

Although he was a relatively high scoring defender in junior and his initial foray at the NHL in the preseason of 2011 featured a bunch of points, it's undetermined right now how high his offensive ceiling will be in the show. Upon his recall last year, it was clear Brodie was more concerned with playing basic, mistake-free defensive hockey than leading the rush or pinching at the blueline.

The kid has some of the tools required to put a few points on the board, however. Brodie is mobile and can skate the puck out of trouble. He also has good instincts and vision, so he can thread passes to forwards through the neutral zone. On rare occasions last year, Brodie flashed some creative flare by skating the puck deep into the oppositions end, driving wide around defenders and trying to find shooters in the slot. His obvious puck skills are part of the reason the rookie averaged nearly 2 minutes of PP ice time last year.

The tools and the ice time didn't translate into an overly impressive stats line, although 14-points in 54 contests pro-rates to a respectable if unspectacular 21 points over a full 82 game schedule. With rare exceptions (Dion Phaneuf), it usually takes several seasons for young blueliners to start gaining enough ice time and responsibility to also start putting points on the board. The Penguins Kris Letang, for instance, scored 17, 33 and 27 points in each of this first three seasons, respectively. In fact, in clicking around nhl.com, the fourth season seems to be the general "rule of thumb" year where blueliners become fully established and make a big step forward in terms of offense.

A recent comparable for Brodie might be the Blackhawks Nick Leddy - a similar defender in terms of build (6', 191 pounds) and style (mobile, two-way), Leddy scored just seven points in 43 games during his rookie season but followed that up with 37-points over a full sophomore season.

Of course, point totals aren't the full measure of any player and less so for defenders. Brodie's underlying numbers were decent in his first 50-odd games, although that is due in no small part to Sutter's careful usage of the player. Only Anton Babchuk saw similarly soft opposition last season and no regular defender started more often in the offensive zone than Brodie. That's not uncommon for 21-year old rookie defenders, so the buttery soft minutes shouldn't necessarily been seen as an indictment of the player. The good news is, Brodie's possession rates were the best amongst Flames blueliners, so he took that all important first step of surviving and thriving against the lesser lights.

Brodie isn't overly tall at 6'1" and could use a few more pounds on his frame. He'll never be a guy who hammers opponents into submission, although his ability and willingness to play the physical game in the corners was noticably better in 2012-13 than it was during his first few games in the show the year before. If he can add a bit of weight and strength this summer and over the next few years, Brodie's size and physicality should no longer be listed as liabilities on his scouting reports. That said, it will always be his skating, poise and smarts that drive his game.

Opportunity

With a new coach taking over the bench and the club drowning in third pairing options, it's hard to determine where Brodie will land on the depth chart this season. The kid is the only NHL-level defender currently on a two-way contract, but it seems unlikely the team would demote Brodie after he established himself so ably last year. Sarich, Babchuk and Smith all averaged less ice per game than the rookie under Brent Sutter, which suggests the Brodie is at the "top of the heap" in terms of the third pairing hopefuls.

That could change in either direction under Hartley, although there doesn't appear to be much room above the youngster on the depth chart. Wideman, Bouwmeester, Butler and Giordano are the de facto top-four, with Brodie having little chance of usurping any of them short of a quantum leap forward or an injury to one of the incumbents. Butler is perhaps the only nominally vulnerable veteran of the four, assuming he isn't attached at the hip to Jay Bouwmeester like he was under Brent.

As such, the most likely result is more of the same for Brodie in terms of ice time and role this season, with perhaps a slight uptick in ice and quality of competition. Wideman and Giordano will get the bulk of the PP time from the blueline, so we shouldn't expect Brodie to improve his PPG pace to any great extent.

Conclusion

Brodie's goal this season should be to continue to beat up the weaker sisters in terms of scoring chances and possession in order to further establish himself at the NHL level. If he can become the first guy who gets promoted up the depth chart in the event of illness or injury, he will take another step towards becoming an everyday top-4 option and perhaps that "big leap" in season four down the road.

This year his ceiling is probably limited to about 17-18 minutes a night and between 20-25 points, but top-4 minutes and 35+ points isn't out of reach in the near future.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
Avatar
#1 RexLibris
September 06 2012, 12:56PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I'm left to wonder how well he will match up against a gradually improving NorthWest division.

I like him as a defensive prospect although I think that it may cost him some developmental traction playing behind a shallow blueline.

Ideally, at his age, might it not be better to be given the bottom pairing minutes and a solid veteran partner, with an occasional bonus of 2nd unit powerplay time? I guess I just have to think, when developing defencemen, "what would Nashville do?"

Avatar
#2 Ryan Pike
September 06 2012, 01:09PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

One of Troy Ward's great successes as a coach, Brodie was paired predominantly with Joe Piskula in Abbotsford in his rookie season and definitely calmed down. In his brief NHL stint in 2010-11, it was often a fire drill in his own zone.

Brodie also seemed much more at-ease in the room, joking around and whatnot. It helped that the Flames had basically the entire upper-half of the Heat's roster in Calgary throughout Brodie's stint.

As for his new "defense-first" mentality, I would be remiss if I didn't point to the dozen-or-so scoring chances created by the Brodie and Derek Smith pairing during their partnership. Sure, it was against the lesser lights of the other teams, but it was very promising.

Avatar
#3 beloch
September 06 2012, 02:04PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

It might not happen this season, but I hope Brodie challenges Butler for his spot sooner rather than later. I want to see what Bouwmeester is capable of if given a partner he doesn't have to constantly cover for.

Avatar
#5 The Last Big Bear
September 06 2012, 02:13PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

It seems to me that the real crunch on the Flames' blue line is that there are too many guys fighting for sheltered minutes (Butler, Brodie, Babchuk, and possibly Wideman depending on coaching preferences), and not all that many options for guys providing the shelter (Sarich and Bouwmeester).

Your first reaction might be to think "That sucks, because the Flames have loads of weak defenders.", but I think that's misplaced. My reaction is "Wow, the Flames have a lot of guys who are worth sheltering, either by virtue of being really good prospects or because they're vicious offensive threats."

It's not a case of the Flames defence being 'weak' in terms of assets. It's just a case of being poorly balanced. If either Brodie or Butler were hard-hitting, net-clearing, shutdown defencemen, the Flames would be in a much better position.

Unfortunately, the only hard-hitting, net-clearing defenceman that Feaster seems to have ever liked is Sarich (even going back to his Tampa days).

Not great for a team that is determined to make the playoffs, but from a perspective of a team that is trying to rebuild while trying to take a stab at making the playoffs, I think it's a great balance.

Avatar
#6 RexLibris
September 06 2012, 03:22PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@The Last Big Bear

Sorry, so then are they poorly balanced or striking a great balance? ;-)

I agree that the defence is filling up with the lower-third type defenders, or offensive guys who will give the netminder fits. They would do well to swap one out for a stay-at-home type. Perhaps that is why Feaster retained Sarich, albeit a likely error on his part.

The common wisdom is to pair a puck mover with a shut-down guy (Petry and Smid, to use an Oiler's example). The Flames, as I think you have already stated, don't have the right collection to exploit that duality. This might mean that Hartley has to coach around it, which could make watching Flames games more interesting for those interested in that sort of thing.

Avatar
#8 the-wolf
September 06 2012, 04:39PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props
Kent Wilson wrote:

I don't think defender "type" is the issue for the Flames, just the level of competition each guy can play. There's lots of bottom pairing defenders of all stripes (Brodie, Smith, Sarich, Babchuk, Carson), just not enough proven guys who can take the heavies - be it by rubbing them out along the boards our outskating them.

For example, landing Ryan Suter would have vastly improved Calgary's blueline, even though he's not really a rough and tumble, stay-at-home defender.

What can do is capably play against other team's best guys though.

Agree, same problem as up front. No one who can score while doing the heavy lifting against other teams' best players. You mention Suter and Lidstrom would have to be the generational example. A lack of talent when you get right down to it.

Avatar
#9 RexLibris
September 06 2012, 06:13PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props
Kent Wilson wrote:

I don't think defender "type" is the issue for the Flames, just the level of competition each guy can play. There's lots of bottom pairing defenders of all stripes (Brodie, Smith, Sarich, Babchuk, Carson), just not enough proven guys who can take the heavies - be it by rubbing them out along the boards our outskating them.

For example, landing Ryan Suter would have vastly improved Calgary's blueline, even though he's not really a rough and tumble, stay-at-home defender.

What can do is capably play against other team's best guys though.

Landing Ryan Suter would also have taken Mr. Edwards' pocket book to an entirely new level, not to mention the cap concerns of the team.

You're right in that the Flames, when it comes down to it, don't have the horses at enough (any?) positions to match the best that some of the other teams in the league have to offer.

They used to.

Avatar
#10 SmellOfVictory
September 06 2012, 10:01PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@RexLibris

Subtract Sarich, Hudler, and one of the other UFA signings and you have room for Suter. Or just Sarich and Wideman (can't remember if Wideman was signed prior to July 1 or not).

Avatar
#11 RKD
September 07 2012, 02:04AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I think I would prefer Brodie over Sarich and Babchuk. It's best for Brodie to be given time to keep developing and working on his game at the NHL level. If he is proving to be capable of more than third pairing duties and Butler struggles it might be worth a shot to see how he can handle tougher opposition.

The future of this team is with guys like Brodie and Smith not Cory or Babs. Bob Hartley wants puck possession which this team badly needs. I would say Brodie's possession skills are more highly coveted now than Sarich or Babs.

Avatar
#12 suba steve
September 07 2012, 09:25AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props
SmellOfVictory wrote:

Subtract Sarich, Hudler, and one of the other UFA signings and you have room for Suter. Or just Sarich and Wideman (can't remember if Wideman was signed prior to July 1 or not).

Except by all reports, Suter wasn't coming to Calgary, any more then we were in the running to bring Gretzky back to play one last year.

We may have been able to land another (lesser) UFA D-man (and should have) instead of resigning Sarich for $4mil over 2 years, but Suter was out of our grasp this time. Even with Suter in Flame colors, not sure we are a playoff team anyway.

Avatar
#13 RickT
September 07 2012, 12:51PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I really want the kid to see a bunch of power play time.

One of the highlights of last season was when he jumped in the air to catch the clearing attempt right at the blueline. It was the dying seconds of the game (if I remember correctly) and the Flames had pulled Kipper to get the equalizer. He jumped to catch it, dropped it and made a beautiful pass to an open winger.

We still lost, but it was great to see his poise and confidence.

Comments are closed for this article.