In the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild selected Jonas Brodin with the tenth overall pick. The pick is already being pencilled in as the most controversial pick the Wild have ever made. Today I defend not only the Wild, but more importantly, Jonas Brodin and regard him as one of the best selections any team in need of a defenseman could have made.
Prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, you could Google Search the name Jonas Brodin and most likely never have found any hard scouting reports which suggested he was a high value prospect. All you would probably gather is that he turned 18 on July 12, he's 6'0, 172lbs and he plays for a Swedish team called Farjestad. If you're a fairly cultured hockey fan, you'll know that the league he plays in is Sweden's highest tier league and you may immediately become concerned with his stats from last season; 4 assists in 42 games played.
More, after the jump.
Wild fans may immediately compare him to Mikael Granlund, who was drafted very close to Brodin's position, plays in a similar leage (Finland's top league SM-Liiga) and consider writing Brodin off as a crazy move by the Wild organization when stats are compared. Those who like hockey and go into the draft knowing a select few blue chippers might even be asking, "Who the Hell is Jonas Brodin?!" Even traditional draft junkies scratched their head at not only the lack of offensive flair, but the lack of size, which are probably the two most window shopped assets a player can have when being scouted by big clubs.
The fact is this: the bare information mentioned above doesn't even scratch the surface on Brodin. The argument has to start with the team he plays for. The Swedish Elite League is no joke, that has to the first thing to mention. At age 17 Brodin played full time in a league full of highly skilled, highly developed hockey players. On top of that, it's a league full of men, not boys like the CHL. So consider poise and maturity top assets Brodin brought to the table.
Prior to the draft, another Swedish defenseman played in the Swedish Elite. Same draft class (though 8 months older than Brodin), and was consistantly ranked in the top 3 for prospects leading into the draft. He was drafted fourth by the New Jersey Devils and his name is Adam Larsson. Larsson may have a leg up on Brodin in terms of offensive stats and an NHL-ready body, but it was his poise and ability to play such a fast paced game at such a young age that scouts raved about. Brodin may have just gotten lost in his shadow.
Beyond poise, Brodin has amazing skills. Unfortunately, the skills he possesses are often forgotten or unnoticed by the casual hockey fan. These skills include elite skating ability, off-the-charts hockey sense, simplifies the game, has great awareness and patience with the puck. What the casual fan also doesn't know about these skills is the fact that his skill set is difficult and, for some, nearly impossible to coach or teach.
Skating is a skill that can be taught, but some veteran NHLers have been working on their skating their whole careers and have come up only average and servicable in that area. It is almost unheard of to hear about a player who is drafted as a poor skater and turns out an excellent one. By the time young players are drafted, the ability to improve their skating beyond NHL servicable is limited.
Hockey sense can also be coached, as any player can eventually learn what a smart versus dumb play is with the help of a dry erase board, o's, x's and arrows. The smartest hockey players in the game, like Brodin, don't learn hockey sense with the dry erase board. They play as if the ice were a dry erase board and they see the x's, o's and the arrows develop with the play. That is what makes hockey sense uncoachable.
Brodin's patience is another under cheered skill he possesses, except scouting reports take it to almost an entirely different level as if Brodin possesses the ability to put the play in slow motion or pause the game all together, assess his options and make a play. That kind of ability could never be taught.
Imagine if the NHL draft was an art gallery and guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Couturier were the Leonardo diVinci's and Vincent van Gogh's. They would be standing next to their Mona Lisa's and Starry Night paintings representing their skills. Jonas Brodin would be Michelangelo standing under a blank ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with his paint and brushes in hand.
I say this because I am convinced that Brodin's future is whatever he decides to make at the direction of the organization. I believe he has that potential. 17 year old boys don't get called up to play in a men's league unless they are highly skilled as much as they are malleable and coachable. Brodin has the ability to turn his shift, assignment, game or season to whatever he is asked because he is willing. That's an opportunity and attribute that is a rare find.
So was Brodin the Wild's #1 draft choice all along? Most likely not. I guarantee you the Wild were gaming for a defenseman and their first two choices were Adam Larsson and Dougie Hamilton. The Wild obviously didn't have the hardware to trade up with either Boston or New Jersey but I'm fairly certain they wouldn't have anyway. Larsson is probably slightly ahead of Brodin in the safe or "sure-thing" department and it's plain foolish to think Brodin's offensive potential is higher than Hamilton's.
So why settle on Brodin when there were guys like Nathan Beaulieu with higher offensive ceilings? Bare bottom answer: he's the safer pick with a high enough ceiling. Put it on record, Brodin will play and have a successful career in the NHL.
Right now, the Wild need a safe pick at D. Sure they have three young guys in Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella joining the ranks in the big club but there's two factors that need to go into consideration there. First, the jump depletes their prospect pool and a safe pick ensures their prospect pool is well refilled. Second, Brodin is almost as secure as Falk and Stoner are right now. There's still a chance yet that both of those players will not have what it takes to be NHL regulars. The Wild needed a prospect with some security behind him.
As for Brodin's future with the Wild, will he become the next Niklas Lidstrom? Probably not, but in the same light there's probably nobody in the draft who will touch that level of elite. I imagine if Brodin lives to his most maximum potential, it's not beyond his limit to be a player along the lines of Kris Letang or Christian Ehrhoff, which is a more than welcome development of a first round pick.
Brodin could develop into a slightly less physical, but better positioned Niklas Kronwall or a Marc-Edouard Vlasic if he lives up to his potential with some offensive upside involved. I see at the very least, Brodin becomes a player like Andrew MacDonald or Niklas Hjalmarsson, which is still nothing close to a disappointment.
So if you were disappointed with Brodin and still believe otherwise, wait about five years or so. If Brodin turns out to be the next elite defenseman, don't even apologize, because I'll even be too astonished and excited to care. If he turns out great, don't bother, in fact you probably won't even remember. If he's that player at the NHL level you seem to forget about, don't bother coming back to brag, because that only means he plays the game right but is unspectacular.
Don't worry about Brodin not cutting it. Because I guarantee you today he will.