Baseball and hockey have a few things in common, despite the vocal protestations of hockey fans. Among these are hope in springtime, the pain of your team losing touch with the pennant race and the importance of procurement.
When baseball used to hold the North American fan in a tight grip each summer (this would have been 1901-1994 or so) most of us waited with great anticipation as pitchers, catchers and players whose arms had fallen off the previous year arrived in Florida and Arizona for spring training.
One very important thing that both baseball and hockey teams do with consistency: elevate the most talented players as soon as they are ready. So for Dave Winfield and Sam Gagner, the minor leagues are a road not taken.
For everyone else, there is the minor leagues. Not making the NHL out of junior or college is the experience most of the players in the NHL went through, forced to learn one or more of the finer points of the trade far away from the bright lights and the big paydays.
Kyle Brodziak is something of a poster boy for the Edmonton Oilers minor league system. While Gagner and Hemsky skipped portions of their junior careers to make the show, and Andrew Cogliano came right from the campus, Brodziak represents hockey’s version of the Greyhound “milk-run” bus that stops in every hamlet and town on the way to the big city.
Brodziak is emerging as a very useful player, an important part of the Oilers 4line now that is quite simply kicking ass every shift. The line is tough, physical and has enough skill to get on the scoresheet. To say Brodziak (and Glencross, Stortini) is an unlikely candidate for the most effective on the Oilers over a 5-game stretch is truly a stretch in every sense of the word.
But here he is, and that line is doing damage on every level.
Brodziak spent 173 games in the AHL before arriving as a regular this season at 23 years old. His path should serve as inspiration to all of the minor leaguers working in Springfield (next game: Monday) no matter their draft number or their current slot in the pecking order. None are Sam Gagner, none are Andrew Cogliano, and an NHL future is not promised to any one of them.
Here are the Springfield Indians, with their minor league (AHL, ECHL) games played totals. It took Kyle Brodziak 173 games to figure it out and then to grab his chance, so some of these kids are just getting started.
- Tim Sestito (204)
- Danny Syvret (154)
- Marc Pouliot (140)
- JF Jacques (138)
- Jeff Deslauriers (134)
- Rob Schremp (121)
- Troy Bodie (113)
- Liam Reddox (110)
- Stephane Goulet (101)
- Bryan Young (97)
- Tyler Spurgeon (85)
- Devan Dubnyk (66)
- Ryan O’Marra (55)
- Colin McDonald (51)
- Jonas Almtorp (49)*
- David Rohlfs (46)
- Fredrik Johansson (44)*
- Slava Trukhno (38)
- Jacob Micflikier (37)
- Theo Peckham (34)
- Sebastien Bisaillon (26)
*Players who have played some SEL games which are not included in the total above. They have been professional and outside the NHL for much longer than their minor league games imply.
If we had to choose one player from that list as the next Kyle Brodziak, who would you choose? And, more importantly, what are the odds you’d be right? Would you bet on two of them having an NHL career over 500 games? What are the odds of one of the 21 having an NHL career of longer than 500 games?
And perhaps most important, what does that tell us about the contracts that Marc Pouliot, JF Jacques and others will be asked to sign this summer?