LOS ANGELES — After a strong 2015-16 season with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, not to mention a six-game call-up to the Los Angeles Kings at the end of the season, center prospect Jonny Brodzinski is expected to make the big club’s roster out of training camp once the new season begins in October.
During his first year in professional hockey with the Reign in the 2014-15 season, Brodzinski struggled early, but came on strong as the season wore on.
“I thought he had a great [2015-16 season],” said Kings assistant general manager Michael Futa. “I thought, the year prior, that it was incredible how much he was missed when he [was knocked out of the lineup due to an injury during the Reign’s playoff run]. For a first-year pro, it’s a testimony to how far he had come.”
Last season, the 24-year-old, 6-1, 218-pound native of Ham Lake, Minnesota played in 59 regular season games with the Reign, scoring 27 goals and adding 22 assists for 49 points, with a +3 plus/minus rating and twelve penalty minutes.
“I thought it was a really good year,” said Brodzinski. “As far as the development part goes, I thought that was one of my best years. As far as the little details of my game went, I thought I improved the most there. After my first year of pro hockey, learning that the little details are so important, I really worked on that last year. I think that’s why I got a call-up to the Kings at the end of the season. I really tried to focus on those details.”
Brodzinski made significant progress in those little details, earning him his late-season call-up.
“I would say that I improved the most in protecting the puck down low in the offensive zone,” he said. “That was my main focus last summer. Going into [the 2015-16] season, I don’t think I was very good at it. I felt that I could create a lot more chances for my line mates, and for myself by winning those wall battles and then creating from there.”
“Kings hockey is all about puck protection, wall battles, stuff that keeps the puck in our possession the majority of the game,” he added. “That’s kind of what we pride ourselves on. Keeping the puck, winning puck battles along the walls, keeping the puck in the zone, fighting off a guy along the boards and making a play—that’s what the coaches really harp on.”
Brodzinski did not look out of place in the six games he played with the Kings at the end of last season. But those games showed him that he still has more to work on.
“The six games I played were kind of an eye opener,” he noted. “I worked my hardest and I thought I played decently. Those are games that I’ll always remember, for sure. But it’s a totally different game in the NHL, compared to the AHL. The passes are a little bit crisper, you have to be in the right spot at the right time, or you could cost your team a goal. That’s the nature of the game at the top level. If you do one thing wrong, you might lose the game, 1-0, or 3-2. It’s a one-goal league.”
Towards that end, Brodzinski has been working six days a week this summer, both on the ice and off.
“I’ve been working pretty hard this summer, trying to get ready for the season—a lot of corner work, a lot of edge work, trying to be more explosive coming out of the corners,” he said. “Basically, I’m just trying to become a more well-rounded player, and trying to get a lot stronger and faster. There are little parts of your game that can improve with more strength training, or more skills training. A little bit of mental training, too.”
Whether it was with the Reign or the Kings, Brodzinski made a solid impression on the Kings brass.
“When he came up last year, I thought he did very well,” Futa noted. “The thing that was there was that he had some chances to score. He didn’t score. I remember the breakaway he didn’t score on. If he scores there, I think there’s a different conversation you’re having about him because even he talks about it. Not only was it a critical juncture in the game, but he’s so hard on himself. He expects to score there, at whatever level he plays at. He’s like a Tyler Toffoli in that he’s one of those shooters who just has that expectation.”
Something that has hampered Brodzinski since he made the jump to the professional ranks is getting off to a slow start, and Futa issued a challenge to him regarding that.
“He’s notorious for starting slow, but then he explodes,” said Futa. “But you can’t afford that when you’re trying to make an impact at that level. You’ve got to get one early. You’ve got to get your confidence early.”
“I think it’ll be nice to see Brods score early in the exhibition games this season, just get his feel early,” added Futa. “He’s in great shape, he’s strong, he’s an incredibly driven, competitive guy who I really think, for a team that wants to score more goals, he’s one of those guys who knows where he’s shooting the puck.”
“We need him to score. We need him to get his confidence early. It’s not a matter of putting pressure on himself, but he can’t wait until two or three weeks into the season to get hot. He’s kind of been like that. He worked his tail off, but kind of cruised out of the gate, and had some bad luck, but then, he explodes. He’s got to get hungry early. He’s got to make his impact with us.”
Futa indicated that Brodzinski also needs to work on being just a little quicker.
“There’s a little bit more time in college to get the puck away on the big ice surface,” he observed. “There’s a little less time to do that in the American Hockey League, playing against men in pro hockey, and there’s even less time playing against the best in the world in the National Hockey League. It’s a matter of finding the space to pull the trigger with his God-gifted ability. He’s just got to find that little, extra space, that little, extra step.”
“The shot doesn’t change,” he added. “The accuracy doesn’t change, but the time to get it off does. But we’re confident that he’ll be able to make that adjustment. He’s just got to do everything a bit more quickly, and with confidence.”
Brodzinski is still waiver-exempt, which means that he can be assigned back to the Reign without risk of losing him to a waiver claim by another NHL club. But Brodzinski indicated he was told by Kings hockey operations at the end of last season to come into training camp expecting to make the team.
“The coaches love his work ethic and the guys love his attitude,” said Futa. “But you could even see it at the NHL level. He puts himself in positions to score. The puck comes off his stick in a different way. He’s got to have some luck early to accompany his incredibly hard work. Hopefully, he gets on a roll and find his comfort level in the NHL.”
But there are no guarantees. Indeed, Brodzinski won’t be handed a roster spot automatically. He’ll have to earn it, and the expectation is that he will. That said, if he fails to do so, it will be a major disappointment, both for the Kings, and for Brodzinski. But he seems very confident with training camp just a couple of weeks away.
“At this point, I don’t want to just try and make the [big club’s roster] anymore,” he emphasized. “I want to make an impact and try to change the team for the better—help out in any way that I can. That’s the mindset I’m going [into training camp] with, and I think it’s the mindset I need to have, coming into a team.”
“I’ve worked so hard,” he added. “I feel like it’s my turn now. I’m trying to make the most of it.”
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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