In any given season, there are probably 50 guys in the AHL who are about where Kyle Brodziak was this time last year. Solid minor leaguers, fringe NHL players who lack that extra gear, have 15-20 home run power but can only play LF, RF or 1B. Walk enough for a decent OBP but hit .267 instead of .295 at Triple A and get passed over for callup when injuries hit.
In the summertime I wrote Looks to me like he’s the new Rem Murray. Brodziak is the highest ranking “future role player” on my list, but he’s earned it. Good size and strength and he’s coachable. Limited upside but I think he’s a player.
15th overall to 6th overall is a leap, but Brodziak earned it by working very hard to glose the gap between “fringe NHL player” and “NHL regular.” How did he do it?
In March of this year, Guy Flaming at Hockey’s Future ranked him 13th on his list, saying “The most obvious improvement in Brodziak’s abilities from last year is in his skating. Not unlike Jarret Stoll before him, Brodziak has never been regarded as a good skater but no longer does he stand out for being slow. If he can continue to improve at the pace he has this year, who knows where he could end up on the Oilers’ depth chart.”
Brodziak spent the summer working on strength and conditioning, and on the night of September 17, 2007 he gained clearance from names like Marc Pouliot, Jean Francois Jacques and Patrick Thoresen. Coach MacT that night: “That’s the closest you’ll get to a perfect game. He wasn’t in the wrong position all night. Made great plays with the puck, scored two goals, had a beautiful shorthanded assist, big block at the end. There’s nothing he didn’t do tonight. He looks faster and stronger and maybe the most important difference for him is mentally he’s ready to stay. And it looks like he’s made the decision that he’s staying. That was a hell of a game.”
MacTavish made a similar decision on Daniel Cleary fall 2000, and Buck Rodgers did the same with Mitch Webster 20 years ago.
Brodziak, like Fernano Pisani before him, represents the group of players without draft pedigree who outdistance the higher picks by a wide margin. Since 2000 when MacT arrived, players like Jani Rita, Alexei Mikhnov, Jesse Niinimaki and Marc Pouliot have not found that extra gear that Brodziak acquired through old fashioned hard work and determination.
Kyle Brodziak doesn’t belong in the NHL based on pure talent and skill. He belongs in the NHL because he earned it by making himself into a better, more useful player who could take on a variety of roles due to increased speed and improved strength.
There’s a lesson to be learned by other players currently playing in Springfield.