Rangers giving Jonny Brodzinski his chance to shine
Veteran forward Jonny Brodzinski has had his share of call-ups from the AHL to the NHL over the four years he’s been with the New York Rangers. When there have been injuries or open slots on the Blueshirts’ roster in the previous three years, the Minnesotan has been a pretty regular promotion from the Hartford Wolf Pack — and thus he’s gotten NHL playing time, generally in the bottom six; but without undue expectations and really just to fill a gap in the New York offense.
Brodzinski, who is also the Wolf Pack captain, is 30 years old and was originally drafted 148th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 entry draft. So it’s been a long time coming to get an opportunity like this of playing in the Rangers’ top-six.
“He had a really good training camp,” coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday. “We’re trying to put people in positions where they can be successful and that would be a spot where he can show what they can do.”
Jonny Brodzinski gets his chance
This season, even in Rangers training camp, Brodzinski’s looked a little different. Different enough that as the opening day roster was being designed and not all the slots were yet locked down, there was even some speculation that the veteran American League player might be a finalist among the forward group. He had a very good camp, and it was obvious new head coach Peter Laviolette was impressed with the center’s skill and performance.
In fact, the veteran coach had this to say about Brodzinski on September 30th, as training camp was slowly drawing to a close: “Really good impression. I thought he and his line (Thursday) night were excellent. They were the most noticeable line that generated the most chances. It’s his speed, his tenacity. He is in the game tonight, so that’s the fourth look for him – and those are earned, too. They’re not just given. They’re earned and I think he’s played really well.”
Now, with Brodzinski called up last week to temporarily take the roster spot of the injured Kaapo Kakko, he’s getting his chance to show why he’d been the leading goal scorer in the AHL this season prior to reuniting with the Blueshirts in New York.
Here’s Brodzinski from the pre-game press scrum prior to last Wednesday’s game against Detroit: “I’m playing with a familiar face with (Will) Cuylle, I played with him the whole year last year — so I’m pretty excited,” said the Hartford captain. “I play with a lot of speed, intensity; I’ve got a good shot, am good defensively — so when you bring that kind of work ethic, good things seem to happen.”
But what the Hartford center didn’t expect was to be promoted to the top line, to be playing right wing alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
Brodzinski credits Laviolette
After the first period in Nashville Saturday night, in which the Rangers did about 15 things wrong that you need to do right to win a hockey game, Laviolette made a number of lineup changes to spark his team. They did pull out a win in the end — but moving Brodzinski around the lineup seemed to spark the team’s offense, including two assists from the Pack captain.
The next game, Sunday versus the San Jose Sharks, on a back-to-back night with travel in between, the head coach reverted to the original lineup he had been using, except for one change. Jonny Brodzinski was switched with Blake Wheeler, who was now playing right wing on the third line — while Jonny-on-the-spot was now playing right wing on the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad. In that contest, the speedy and aggressive Brodzinski once again earned two assists.
The Hartford captain assisted on a second goal scored by Artemi Panarin later in the game, and has been a valuable contributor at even strength ever since his call-up. Although it’s not known how long Kakko will be on LTIR nor whether the Rangers will make an early trade to try to fill either his or Filip Chytil’s (also on LTIR) roster spot, there seems to be a good chance Brodzinski will be given an extended look on the top line — and for now, he’s living up to the merit of the top six opportunity he’s been given.
“I think this is the first time in my career really that the coaches are trusting me right away and are really putting me in a position to succeed,” Brodzinski admitted. “That’s definitely been the most beneficial thing I’ve had so far.”