EL SEGUNDO, CA — From the start of the 2016-17 season, Los Angeles Kings center prospect Jonny Brodzinski has had his sights set on a late season call-up from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League to the National Hockey League and the Kings.
“It’s something you work for,” he said. “This is why you put all the hours in during the summer. You get to play with [future] Hall of Famers. It’s awesome.”
“Right at the beginning of the year, I wanted to [score] 35 [goals this season] in the American league,” he added. “That was my goal. I was getting close to it, and thought that if I was getting close I’d get a call-up. I just plugged away all year, worked hard, and got rewarded.”
At the time Brodzinski was recalled, the 23-year-old, 6-1, 218-pound native of Ham Lake, Minnesota had played 56 games with the Reign, leading the team in goals scored (25) while adding 22 assists, good for 47 points, with a +6 plus/minus rating and 12 penalty minutes.
Last season with the Reign, the Kings’ fifth round selection [148th overall] in the 2013 NHL Draft did not see a lot of ice time on the power play and even less on the penalty-kill—he wasn’t always on the ice in critical situations because he hadn’t yet earned the trust of Reign head coach Mike Stothers.
This season, it took Brodzinski very little time to prove to Stothers that he could be trusted.
“I think [getting the call-up] was about opportunity,” he noted. “I wasn’t playing on the power play last year. This year, I just got thrown right into it—first power play [unit], first penalty-[killing unit]. I was playing big minutes.”
“It’s all about opportunity,” he added. “When you get it—some guys succeed, some guys stay the same. I just buried the puck this year and good things have happened.”
The biggest component of that trust was Brodzinski having improved on the defensive side of the puck.
“I think it was because I was more sound, defensively,” he said. “That’s a big thing with him. If you’re good defensively, he’ll trust you in the offensive zone. Just go and do whatever you want in the offensive zone. He’ll let you be creative.”
Brodzinski has just barely gotten his skate blades wet in the NHL, having played in just three games since being called up from Ontario. But now, he has to make an adjustment that’s rarely easy.
“It’s just a faster game,” he noted. “You have to make plays quicker. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have as much time and space to shoot the puck as you do in the American league. The chances you get in each game, you have to capitalize on them. That’s the biggest thing right now.”
“Going up against some elite goaltenders and defensemen in the NHL is a lot tougher,” he added. “Bigger guys, tougher to get around. But that doesn’t change my game. I’m always trying to work the puck low, get body positioning and try to get my shot off as much as possible. I think that’s my biggest threat, so I just try to get open. [At Vancouver on March 31,] with [center Anze] Kopitar and [left wing Marian] Gaborik, I was just trying to find those seams and they were finding me every time.”
To be sure, like so many young, skilled forwards, Brodzinski still has a lot to learn about playing in the NHL.
“It’sa a work in progress,” said assistant coach John Stevens. “Jonny’s got a skill set we like. He’s got good hands, he shoots the puck well, he’s got really good instincts, and he’s shown the ability to be responsible. The big challenge at this level, at this time of year, is that being responsible even 90 percent of time isn’t good enough. That can be the difference in a hockey game.”
“There has to be an understanding of the urgency of every shift, every play, every puck,” added Stevens. “When you’re on the ice against a Sedin, or a McDavid, Domi, Doan—those types of players, you have to value how important every shift is, and that’s something young players [coming] here get a taste of. When you go into those buildings on the road, [they] understand just how important games are and how intense games are. We can tell them about it, but until they experience it, they don’t quite understand it. They’re certainly getting an understanding now, after [the Kings’ last road trip].”
Stevens also noted that all players, especially young ones like Brodzinski, are going to make mistakes.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” he emphasized. “If your preparation is where it needs to be, your mindset is where it needs to be, you come into a game where you apply yourself and you’re ready to go, mistakes are going to happen. But maybe you’re not prepared. Maybe you weren’t ready to go in the first five minutes, maybe there was a face-off and you weren’t ready. Those are things we have a problem with.”
“Mistakes are going to happen,” he added. “If your intention is to do the right thing, you’re prepared and your compete level is where it needs to be, we will live with mistakes. It’s those other things that we won’t.”
After noting the challenges he faces in moving up from the AHL to the NHL and the Kings, after noting how much faster the game is and how it’s so much more difficult to generate scoring chances, after all that and more, when asked about what may have surprised him about moving up to the NHL, Brodzinski went in an entirely unexpected direction.
“It’s kind of weird, coming from the American league,” he said. “After games, you’ve got to write down your meal on a sheet and put money in a cup. It’s a lot different here, flying in a [chartered] jet and they’ve got meals for you.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jonny Brodzinski, shown here playing for the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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