Brodin has been a revelation for the Minnesota Wild
Teammates raving about rookie defenceman
ST. PAUL — All things considered, Zenon Konopka’s a pretty handy guy to have on your side. As a PR campaign manager, someone who’d certainly drive the message home.
“That’s my boy,” said the pugnacious Konopka, watching teenager Jonas Brodin disappear into the recesses of the Minnesota Wild dressing room at Xcel Energy Center.
“Unbelievable, this kid. He doesn’t get half as much credit as he should; a 19-year-old that plays in every situation. In my mind, he should be in the Top Three among rookies for the Calder. But because he doesn’t have the numbers, he probably won’t be.
“I’ve told buddies about him, family members about him, and then they come to watch games live, and afterwards they go ‘Holy (bleep)! He really is that good!’
“He’s a great kid. He wants to learn. He’s a sponge, absorbs information. You watch, he’ll be a superstar in this league.”
Brodin speaks pretty decent English but the transition as a whole has been daunting: Becoming acclimatized to a new culture and an upgraded standard of play, not to mention immediate on-ice responsibilities far beyond his years.
“It’s been tough,” admitted Brodin. “I was injured almost the whole year” — suffering a broken clavicle in the AHL on a hit by Taylor Hall, toiling during the lockout for Edmonton’s Oklahoma City farm club — “play one game with Houston and then up here. There’s lots of different stuff outside the rink. Here, there’s so many good teams. It’s not easy out there.”
It’s always easier for rookie forwards to be noticed, and harder for teenage defenceman to break into the league. Konopka could hardly be more right about the numbers and their impact on Calder recognition. In 14 games, Brodin’s put up three points, all assists, and is a minus-1. Hardly the kind of statistical tidal wave to sway fence-sitting awards voters.
But in this case, as in many others, protests Wild coach Mike Yeo, numbers actually do lie.
“He’s been a huge ... I don’t want to say ‘surprise’, but we can say that we’ve been extremely pleased,” praised Yeo. “With rookies, you’re always careful with your expectations because this is a tough league. So for a young player to come in and do what he’s done — play on the top pairing, in the biggest defensive situations as well as in offensive situations — it’s been extremely impressive.
“He’s such a good kid. Always has a smile on his face. And I think that’s a big part of why he’s been so successful. He’s just here, enjoying the ride.”
The lofty projections are well earned. There are, naturally, ample reasons why the Wild chose him 10th overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft and why Brodin played a pivotal role in Sweden’s gold-medal-winning performance at the Alberta-hosted World Junior Championships.
After spending time mentoring the kid, Houston Aeros’ boss John Torchetti reckons he skates with the effortlessness of Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester and possesses the natural hockey instincts of the elegant Scott Niedermayer. Heady praise, indeed.
For workhorse Wild D-man Ryan Suter, paired a lot with Brodin so far, the potential has only been scratched.
“As a defenceman, it’s tough. Every mistake you make is under the magnifying glass. At 19. At any age. You’re the last line.
“But he’s very poised. Off the ice, he’s a really quiet guy, very shy. I try to joke around with him as much as I can. He’s good about asking questions. He isn’t afraid to ask if he doesn’t understand something. And I’ve told him ‘Anytime.’
“We like flying under the radar. For me, being in Nashville, I was really under the radar. For him, being here, with the some of the changes we made, he’s maybe not getting the attention he warrants. But sometimes that’s good when you’re trying to establish yourself.”
The freshman has charmed more than his teammates and the coaching staff during his short time here. The gents who work the Wild room are appreciative, too. He may be a first-round pick and a future star, but this is one guy who isn’t too grand to pick up pucks after practice or haul his own gear or even ask the equipment staff if they need a hand lugging someone else’s.
Jonas Brodin aims to please, with his obvious skill on the ice and his natural genuineness off it.
“It’s tough to make comparisons,” says Konopka, “but I played with Erik Karlsson last year, and there’s a few of them, for sure.”
And that campaign he’s got up and running?
“Well, it’s not really a ... campaign,” Konopka corrects you, amused. “I just said on Twitter: ‘C’mon, pay attention to the guy. Give him a shot.’ I just want the hockey world to take notice. That’s all. ‘Cause he deserves the notice.
“But even if they don’t do it now, they will. Soon.
“Because this kid’s going to be around a long, long time.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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