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Who is new Calgary Flames prospect Hunter Brzustewicz? A local perspective

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Photo credit:Natalie Shaver/OHL Images
Nick Lacoste
22 days ago
The Calgary Flames acquired RD Hunter Brzustewicz from the Vancouver Canucks in a blockbuster trade involving pending UFA Elias Lindholm on Wednesday. There were many pieces to the Lindholm trade, but one key piece that has piqued fans’ interest has been defensive prospect Hunter Brzustewicz, who is currently playing with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League.
I have watched Hunter Brzustewicz closely as part of a professional involvement with the OHL, while also growing up as a Kitchener Rangers hometown fan. I can speak to Brzustewicz’s value and the dynamic hockey player he’s evolved into. At a quick stats glance for those unaware of Brzustewicz before the trade, Brzustewicz has hovered around the top three in OHL scoring all season long, all while being a defenceman. 
Here are three special traits that I notice in Brzustewicz’s game that encapsulate his player profile beyond the scoreboard:

Confidence + Patience

Brzustewicz knows how good he is, and plays confidently to his strengths. Specifically, he does not panic when faced with oncoming pressure and makes consistent breakout plays when tasked. Brzustewicz also activates frequently to serve as a “fourth forward” in transition or even simply to drive the puck into the opponent’s end himself. A unique trait in Brzustewicz’s skillset is that he rarely over-stickhandles, meaning that, while he skates with the puck, he is able to make a pass at any moment depending on the changing teammate/opponent formations he sees in front of him and be effective as a “quarterback” at even strength. Some defencemen in junior get caught on their backhand while “playing scared” with the puck and end up being unable to make good passes under pressure. Brzustewicz doesn’t skate himself into trouble, and his ability to avoid over-stickhandling as a young defenceman is a valuable habit for his playstyle as a ‘puck distributor’ and for an anticipated transition to faster pro hockey in the future, where decisions must be made quicker. Brzustewicz’s confidence and patience also sing true on the power play where he controls the blueline very well and pulls opposing Penalty Killers his way, allowing him to feed players like Seattle Kraken prospect Carson Rehkopf, who is having a great offensive season. I can see Brzustewicz running Calgary’s power play in the future.

Off-puck + Niche habits

Brzustewicz often holds his stick out ready for passes, regardless if a pass is coming to him, giving teammates security knowing he is always ready for the puck. Brzustewicz is also engaged with the game at all times and holds himself to a high standard, where he takes charge when his team seems to falter and tries to “push the envelope” on offence when he sees fit. Few defencemen in junior hockey have both the focus and natural skill to compete against top junior talent and still be creative and think for themselves. Brzustewicz plays into Kitchener’s system, while also leading the rush on occasion and breaking the mold of a conventional defenceman, as seen in the playstyles of popular “modern” NHL defencemen. Brzustewicz’s play has grown into a well-rounded Draft+1 season where Brzustewicz boasts both a considerate defensive vision and a creative offensive vision which has made him a premier junior defenceman. Brzustewicz has helped elevate the Kitchener Rangers into the conversation for one of the top teams in junior hockey.

Smoothness/Fluidity

In junior, some defencemen bob up and down or skate in a choppy way that worries pro scouts. Some young defencemen are “loud” stickhandlers and are unable to keep their hands and feet on the same page to be effective, and some make too many dangerous passes that get intercepted by junior opponents. Hunter Brzustewicz doesn’t fall into any of these negative categories, and it’s part of why he’s more pro-ready than his peers. Brzustewicz is smooth on his edges and rarely makes you nervous when he has the puck, while it’s also evident that he’s trying for high-level high-danger passes when they make sense and feels comfortable holding onto the puck under pressure. He doesn’t overdo stretch passes, where he analyzes the space in front of him exceptionally quickly to make the “right” play, usually leading to a rush chance and continued possession for his team. On the reception side, Brzustewicz does well receiving ‘junior-level’ passes, where there is less consistency in pass quality from junior players compared to NHL professionals, for the most part. Players that turn junior hockey into a smooth, skilled, ‘professional’ environment with traits such as reception ability and vision typically project as impactful pro hockey players (some call it “game management”). 

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that Brzustewicz’s amazing statistical portfolio, headlined by his offence this season, could be attributed to the aforementioned special traits of his game that I have witnessed this year, where execution, patience, skating, and consistency were not always “premier junior quality” in previous years. It is expected that Brzustewicz’s stick skills and good habits will prove beneficial as he moves into higher levels of hockey over the next few years.
Overall, Flames fans should be very pleased with the value they got from the Elias Lindholm trade, especially regarding RD Hunter Brzustewicz. While his pro value may be uncertain at this time, I envision Brzustewicz being part of the Flames’ future defence core in an impactful role.

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