Would Sweden have won the gold medal at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship if it had Jonas Brodin in the lineup? We’ll never know, but the 19-year-old defenceman’s absence certainly didn’t help Tre Kronor.
Brodin was one of five top unavailable players for coach Roger Rönnberg at the tournament, staged during the labour dispute in the NHL. The others included forward Mika Zibanejad and defencemen Hampus Lindholm, Jesper Pettersson and Oscar Klefbom.
The Swedes performed admirably in Ufa, Russia, and took silver. Brodin couldn’t be there since he had suffered a broken collarbone on a hit from Edmonton Oilers star Taylor Hall. The two were facing each other in AHL action on November 3, Brodin with the Houston Aeros and Hall with the Oklahoma City Barons. Had the NHL season been underway then, both would have been in the big league.
It’s remarkable to see how well Brodin has bounced back as a rookie with the Minnesota Wild, who drafted him 10th overall in 2011. The smooth-skating Karlstad native isn’t just seeing the ice occasionally. He’s playing top-pairing minutes – well in excess of 20 per night.
“The more people get to watch this kid, the more they’ll realize he is a talented hockey player on both sides of the puck,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo.
It’s also a testament to how hard Brodin worked during his rehabilitation process.
“I did some band work and did some work on my upper body,” Brodin told IIHF.com. “My focus was just to get back from the injury to my collarbone. But in terms of the ice time, it’s fun to play a lot.”
He’s teamed up frequently with Ryan Suter, a 2010 Olympic silver medallist and 2004 World Junior gold medallist with the United States. The 28-year-old from Wisconsin made headlines when he and fellow Olympian Zach Parise signed identical 13-year, $98-million deals with the Wild on July 4.
So in the Twin Cities, Brodin can go shopping at the Mall of America, whereas Suter can probably afford to buy the whole thing. But regardless, the teenager’s excellent positional play has made him a good partner for Suter early in this abbreviated NHL campaign.
“He’s a superstar,” Brodin said of Suter. “He’s one of the best defencemen in the NHL, and he helps me a lot, both on and off the ice.”
Brodin will never rival the point totals of his idol, Nicklas Lidström. In fact, he scored zero goals in 94 regular season games with his hometown Elitserien club, Färjestad Karlstad. (He did, however, chip in four markers in his 25 playoff games there.)
But putting up big numbers isn’t what Brodin is all about. He plays a game that’s mature beyond his years, and he partially credits that to his decision to spend one more season in Sweden, instead of rushing off to North America right after he got drafted.
“I think it was the right decision,” Brodin said. “I got a lot of playing time in the Swedish Elitserien, and I think my development was helped by staying one more year in Sweden. I got to play against men there.”
He was also available to play at the 2012 World Juniors, where Rönnberg’s crew ended Sweden’s 31-year gold medal drought with a 1-0 win over Russia in overtime. He played so well that he even cracked the senior World Championship roster in Stockholm in May, scoring one goal in seven appearances en route to a sixth-place finish.
“I got to play with some excellent players like Henrik Zetterberg,” Brodin recalled about the Worlds. “It was good to be around those guys, just watching them and learning.”
Prior to this season, he took a step forward physically. Although NHL statistics still list the 185-cm Brodin at 75 kg, he laughed when this was brought up: “No, that’s not correct. That’s old. I’m 86 kg.”
Wearing the same #25 he’s sported since being promoted to the senior club with Färjestad, Brodin knows what he needs to do to succeed with Minnesota.
“They just want me to play my game,” said Brodin. “Go out there and keep it simple. Make a quick first pass and see what happens on the rush.”
With Sweden’s excellent depth on defence, it seems unlikely that Jonas Brodin will suit up for his country at the 2014 Olympics in Russia. But don’t underestimate the potential of this understated youngster. He’s got a lot left to accomplish in blue and yellow.