It was the 2008 rookie tournament in
Camrose when T.J. Brodie first caught my attention.
The team’s fourth-round pick that
year quickly flashed his puck-handling skills and his smooth skating
ability while playing mostly beside big, lumbering blueliner Matt
He made his share of mistakes, as kids
with that kind of natural talent tend to do. He was caught too far up
the ice on occasion, and got a little cute with the puck at times
when he should have just made the safe play, flipped it off the glass
and out. But you could see the raw potential.
By the time the Young Stars Tournament
moved to Penticton two years later, a member of the Flames
organization somewhat quietly pointed to the Chicago Blackhawks’
Duncan Keith — who happened to win a gold medal with Team Canada at
the Vancouver Winter Games, a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, and
the James Morris Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman that
previous season — as an example of the ceiling for the
Like the few others who heard it at the
time, I brushed it off as a little extreme. Thought it was probably
just a little hyperbole intended to get people excited about a
mid-round pick. I can’t even recall now who said it. The notes are
long-shredded and the only example of it I can find online is buried
an old article by my former Calgary
Sun partner Randy Sportak.
Keith was 27 in 2010, in his prime as
an all-around defenceman. Brodie is 24 now. He has one full 82-game
NHL season on his resume and another lockout-shortened year. The
numbers are nice. The sample size is small.
But if things keep progressing the way
they have so far, Brodie may just touch that ceiling in another few
years. He made NHL.com correspondent Matt Sitkoff’s sleeper
fantasy list for this coming season, and others will likely
There are definitely differences
between Keith and Brodie and their paths to the NHL. But there are
also striking similarities.
They’re both 6-foot-1. Brodie is a
little lighter but gaining muscle mass and strength with each
off-season of training. They each boast above-average skating
abilities and seem to slow the game down when they carry the puck up
the ice. Confidently.
Brodie has work to do to be mentioned
in the Norris conversation, a place his blueline partner Mark Giordano is currently more deserving of, but the professional
progression Brodie has displayed sure reminds me of the way Keith
rose to greatness.
Especially last season — Brodie’s
big breakout. And with Keith earning his second Norris nod this past
spring, coinciding with Brodie’s blip on the league radar, don’t
be surprised if more people in and out of town start making the Keith
comparison that the now faceless Flames insider boldly predicted four
After spending a couple of years in the
American Hockey League, the second spurred on by the season lost to
lockout, Keith was 22 when he played his first full slate in the NHL
in 2005-06. Because of the recent lockout, Brodie only got a half
season in at the same age as Keith.
The pro-rated numbers from Brodie’s
two-goal, 14-point season in 47 games in 2012-13 put him around the
25-point mark over a full schedule. Keith posted 21 (nine goals, 12
assists) in his first NHL campaign.
Keith went on to score two goals and 29
assists for 31 points in his second season. Brodie netted nearly
identical numbers with four goals and 31 points last year.
Where Brodie goes from here is a bit of
a guessing game.
Keith improved quickly, as did his
Blackhawks team, which was rebuilding during his first three seasons.
He’s become a perennial 40-point
blueliner. a strong defender, and has twice cracked 60 points from
the back end — his Norris seasons of 2010 and 2014.
With more time expected to come for
Brodie on the powerplay this season, it’s safe to assume he’ll be
in the high 30s or get into the 40s for points on the year. Where he
may already be ahead of Keith is the possession game. His relative
Corsi last year was second best on the team behind Giordano. Keith
has never been top three on his team as far back as the stat is
tracked on BehindTheNet.ca.
Brodie’s growing pains appear to be
behind him. Despite a stellar pre-season in 2010, he was sent to the
AHL because he wasn’t mature enough as a hockey player to make
consistently smart decisions — which are even more important for a
He grew up quickly under Abbotsford
Heat head coach Jim Playfair, a fiery teacher who had previously
groomed Giordano with great success. Keith learned under an equally
intense AHL bench boss in Trent Yawney.
Playfair’s tough love approach during
the 2010-11 season helped Brodie become an AHL all-star.
another adjustment I had to make,” Brodie told
me at the Flames summer development camp in 2011. “He’s the
type of coach who likes to raise his voice and get his point across
that way. It takes a while to understand how to take that from sort
of a negative to a positive.”
Brodie managed to do exactly that, and
continues to take steps toward NHL stardom.
A Norris trophy may not be in his
future. Only 25 different defencemen have taken home that hardware
since 1954. Some of the best blueliners in the game have yet to win
it. But it’s a good bet that Brodie will soon be off the fantasy
sleeper lists and climbing into a more flattering category.