Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Brodziak's value underrated for Blues all season

Free-agent-to-be center has filled many roles, including recently filling in as 
top-six player in light of an adjusted roster trying to help Blues make the playoffs

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Opening up the stats page on Blues center Kyle Brodziak, just glancing at his time on ice per game, there would be the usual 11, 12, 13, maybe even 14 minutes of ice time per game along with some eight- and nine-minute games sprinkled in, depending on the result.

This is pretty common for a fourth-line center.

But in Brodziak's case, times have changed as the season has progressed. Those minutes have turned into 16, 17, 18 minutes a night, and who better to serve those minutes than the veteran Brodziak, and all things considered, the Blues (39-28-5), in a dogfight for the Western Conference wildcard race, need every ounce of help they can get from a roster that has seen its share of changes, whether through injury or personnel change.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Center Kyle Brodziak has been one of the most consistent players for the Blues
during the 2017-18 season. 

The Blues went through the injury bug from the outset, when Robby Fabbri re-injured his surgically-repaired left knee during training camp that would force him to miss the entire 2017-18 season. That eliminates a top-six player, and when the Blues traded Paul Stastny to Winnipeg on Feb. 26 on trade deadline day, it really created a void at center ice and in a top-six role. So when coach Mike Yeo needed someone to step in and help alleviate that void, the 33-year-old Brodziak has been his guy, and Brodziak is relishing the moment.

"I'm definitely enjoying it," said Brodziak, who has 10 goals and 15 assists in 71 games this season. "It's fun to have an opportunity to get more minutes, play a little bit of a different role. In saying that, we've still got a job to do. We're trying to get as many points as we can and we're just trying to put together wins and have fun while we're doing it."

So instead of centering Scottie Upshall, Chris Thorburn, Dmitrij Jaskin or whoever would be his linemates on the fourth line taking up more of a physical, checking, defensive responsibility role with the occasional time to provide some offense, Brodziak's found himself thrust into situations where he needs to win an important draw in the offensive or defensive zone late in games, a role Stastny would be called upon for, or Brodziak would be called upon to work with those top-six guys, mainly with Alexander Steen or Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka. 

It's a change in roles but one that he feels hasn't changed his approach.

"No. I'm still just trying to play my game," Brodziak said. "At this point, I know what strengths I have as a player and I'm trying to have fun. That's kind of been my focus all year is to not worry about little things, stay in the moment and play the game and enjoy it. I'm not going to change it now.

"Obviously when we lost 'Stas,' he was the guy that is one of the best faceoff guys in the league and played against top guys. We lose a guy like him and I think it's kind of been a shared responsibility for everyone to step up and take a few more draws, take a few more important draws. I think to this point, we've been doing an OK job of filling that hole."

For what he's been asked to do, Brodziak may be one of the biggest bargains in the league. He's making $900,000 this season on a two-year, $1.9 million contract he signed in June 27, 2016.

"He's played great," Yeo said of Brodziak, who played for Yeo for four season from 2011-2015 in Minnesota. "He's deserved to be up there. What you like about a guy like 'Brodzy,' and we've had some other guys and it's normal for young players, you put them with kind of a skilled player and next thing you know, they try and change their game. 'Brodzy' hasn't changed his game. He's gotten some more ice time, but his game still looks the same as when he was on the fourth line. He's just getting more ice time, more minutes and more opportunity. He's winning his matchups, he's playing solid in the 'D' zone, he's bearing down and winning his faceoffs, he's still strong on the penalty kill. All the things that we need him to be on a night to night basis, he's doing that and now he's getting more opportunity and playing with some offensive players and some guys making plays. He's definitely taking advantage of that."

Brodziak's teammates love his quiet demeanor that plays loudly on the ice.

"He's a veteran guy and we know how much he contributes on a nightly basis," Steen said. "He's very composed, he's got very good hockey sense. We've moved him up and down the lineup a few times throughout the year and he's loved the challenge and he's been playing really, really well for us all year and not just now, but all season, he's been a horse for us.

"'Brody's been one of those guys that's done it previously in his career, too. He's got a lot of experience. He's played higher up in the lineups and he's done a heck of a job for us."

In the immediate two games after the Stastny trade, the Blues had Ivan Barbashev playing higher up in the lineup, but Yeo didn't waste time turning to Brodziak and the veteran has responded.

"I think we tried other things first, but he continued to plow along and trustingly enough, it's not like we gave him the opportunity, he earned it, let's put it that way," Yeo said. "He earned it, his play has been that solid. When you're playing in lines like that, you know you're going to have to play against top players in the league and we know he's capable of that.

"Quietly he was providing a little bit of offense when he was down there (on the fourth line) for us. I would say that there was a good time where he was outscoring guys that were in a higher position in the lineup. We really relied on him, maybe not as much ice time, but certainly we relied on him and in really key situations and playing against top players. The defensive zone starts that we give him, I think it was probably a little bit overshadowed and a little bit more focus on it right now. But all year long, he's been a very important player for us. Since we traded 'Stas,' we knew somebody was going to have to elevate, step up and take more opportunity. We knew it couldn't be just one person, but I think if you had looked to anybody, to look to one person who's been off the most I'd say is 'Brodzy.'"

In his 13th season, Brodziak, who has 279 points (123 goals, 156 assists) in 837 regular-season games, could have looked at the extra workload as a challenge and something that could be taxing on a 33-year-old body with that sort of mileage, but he embraced it and welcomes it.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment, but I felt like I where I was physically, I felt like I was ready for it," Brodziak said. "I've been feeling pretty good this year and trying to keep on top of things that way. The only thing I can say is I'm enjoying it, having fun. I want to keep on doing it.

"... You play a few more minutes. We're playing with a few more guys that are used to being in a top six. We're definitely trying to score. I mean that's a role obviously, it depends every shift is different. Sometimes you go and start in the 'D' zone. Priority number one is to get the puck out of the zone and move it up the ice. When we get to the offensive zone though, we're trying to score for sure."

Brodziak's 51.6 faceoff percentage is his best since he finished 51.64 percent in 2008-09 for Edmonton, and it's two percent higher than his 49.6 percent career number, and his 100 shots this season are almost as many as he had in the past two seasons with the Blues combined (104).

He assisted Sobotka's tying goal late in the third period in Chicago, then won a key draw late in the third period to set up the tying goal for Alex Pietrangelo. 

"For an older guy, he's a specimen," Thorburn said of Brodziak. "He's in great shape, he takes care of himself and he's performed. There's many times we need a spark, whether it's physically or scoring a goal, he's a guy that brings it all. He's a very important piece to our lineup.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Kyle Brodziak (28) attempts to make a play against Los Angeles' Travor
Lewis during a 7-2 Blues victory on March 10.

"... He's a versatile player. He's a guy that brings a lot to the table. Coach can put him in many different situations and he handles them and succeeds in all of them. At the start of the year, he might have been slotted on the fourth line but he's definitely a player that we see, and I'm sure the whole league views, as a player that's better than that."

When July 1 comes around, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong would be wisely served to fit Brodziak back into the picture and sign him to a contract, because it would be good to have him around to tutor some of the young prospects on the horizon.

"I definitely appreciate the chance to get to play more," Brodziak said. "It's fun. It's fun to feel like you're part of the game the whole game long. You're playing a different roles and sometimes you have a shift and you don't get out there for a few minutes and kind of dwell on it a little bit. But with this role, you just kind of keep on rolling and keep on playing and it's been fun."

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