TORONTO – Maybe the most shocking thing about the turnover in front of the Wild’s net that led to a Washington Capitals goal last week was the guilty party.
Jonas Brodin rarely has a hiccup like that.
The 21-year-old, who is one of the most mobile, best puck-handling defenseman in the NHL, is having a terrific season and has become one of the Wild’s most dependable blue-liners. He proved that yet again in Saturday’s bounce-back victory over St. Louis. Brodin was plus-3 and, in a span of 26 seconds, assisted on a Zach Parise goal and scored the eventual game-winner.
“Sometimes you hold your breath a little bit, but he’s got so much composure, so much poise back there with the puck,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He made one mistake [against Washington], but for the countless plays that he makes over and over, game after game where he helps us execute, prevents goals against and helps us in so many different ways, that’s one small mistake in a very large pool of great plays to him.”
Over the past two months, the Wild has played without injured defensemen Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Brodin is a big reason why the team has survived this stretch. The unassuming defenseman might be the Wild’s most versatile. The left-shot defenseman plays the right side normally on the top pairing with veteran Ryan Suter, but when Prosser was injured, Brodin had to play two games on the left side.
He plays sporadically on the power play, always on the NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill and eats big minutes.
Brodin is tied for eighth among NHL defensemen with a plus-19 and ranks 18th among all NHL players in average ice time per game (24 minutes, 13 seconds). There’s no player in the NHL that has played as many minutes as Brodin with so few penalties (three minors for six penalty minutes).
Frankly, he should be a contender for the Lady Byng Trophy — for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with excellent play — at season’s end. Mobility and smarts is the reason Brodin takes so few penalties.
“I try to move my feet. That’s the biggest thing,” Brodin said. “If I go into the corner, I try not to have my stick up high. I keep it on the ice and keep ‘stick on puck’ all the time.”
Penalties are taken in the NHL mostly when players are out of position and are forced to react by holding or hooking. But Brodin’s skating ability, how he reads plays, keeps plays in front of him and how he defends in one-on-one situations often lead to him driving forwards batty.
Combine all that with a good stick and skating ability, and Brodin stays out of the box.
“He rarely puts himself in a position where he’s chasing or beat,” Yeo said.
Brodin, who has three goals and 16 points in 61 games this season, had eight goals and 19 points in 79 last season. He had an even plus-minus, and he’s the first to admit he had a sophomore slump after an outstanding rookie year as a 19-year-old.
“I feel like I developed over the summer,” said Brodin, who in October signed a six-year, $25 million contract extension that starts next season. “I had a little bit of a down season last year I think from my first year, but this year I feel pretty good right now.”
Still, on a blue line with Suter, the blossoming Scandella and the always-consistent Spurgeon, Brodin often is overshadowed.
That doesn’t shock former St. Cloud State defenseman and Wisconsin-Stout assistant coach Rikard Gronborg, Sweden’s national junior team coach who has coached Brodin in multiple tournaments.
In 2010-11, Brodin had a sensational draft year and skyrocketed up the scouting lists as the NHL draft in St. Paul approached.
Gronborg said he guaranteed to all his Twin Cities pals that the Wild, in need of a defenseman, would select Brodin 10th overall.
“It was just a gut feeling because he’s a low-key kind of guy, but on the ice, everything he does makes sense,” Gronborg said. “What makes him a great fit in Minnesota is that even though he doesn’t put a lot of points on the board, all the small details in his game are good.
“Minnesota people understand hockey. They can see what he does on the ice so well even without the points, so Minnesota was the perfect place because people that really know hockey appreciate him.”
Wild at Toronto
6:30 p.m. Monday • TV: FSN (100.3-FM)