How Jonas Brodin Is Driving the Bus for the Minnesota Wild
After Kirill Kaprizov dazzled in his rookie season and the Minnesota Wild bought out the remaining years of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s contracts, it felt like the team was turning a new leaf.
And with Dean Evason’s club beginning the 2021-22 campaign at 5-1-0, you might assume the Russian sensation has grabbed the reins and become the face of the franchise in earnest. That hasn’t been the case—at least not yet. Kaprizov has racked up five assists but struggled to deliver the same monumental impact he did a year ago.
Instead, an unassuming veteran has embraced a larger role and emerged as the engine behind one of the league’s most pleasant early surprises.
Jonas Brodin has ranked among the stingiest blueliners in the world for a few years now. Unlike his flashier counterparts, the 28-year-old mostly focuses on airtight positioning and high-danger chance suppression. He’s an outstanding matchup defenseman precisely for that reason.
Through six games, though, his three-zone contributions have increased to unprecedented levels. He’s no longer content to merely make defensive stands. Once he’s kept his end clean, he’s looking to initiate transition and tilt the ice in Minnesota’s favor. In doing so, he may finally be realizing his potential as the 10th overall pick in 2011. He’s shifting from a pure shutdown artist to a full-fledged top-pairing defenseman.
Look at how he put the Vancouver Canucks on their heels on Tuesday night:
His IQ and assertive positioning at the offensive blue line also yielded a 2-0 goal:
Without blue-line mainstay Suter in the fold, Brodin’s usage alongside partner Matt Dumba has changed. Though his average time on ice is similar to last year’s (~22 minutes per game), his offensive zone start percentage has skyrocketed from 43.0 to 58.3, indicating that the team wants more offense from the Brodin-Dumba pairing.
Brodin has rewarded the coaching staff for its green light with excellent all-around performances. At 5-on-5, the Wild own 56.3% of the shot attempts, 58.9% of the scoring chances, 69.2% of the high-danger opportunities, 63.7% of the expected goals and 57.1% of the actual goals during his shifts. Those are phenomenal numbers. His goal share would be even higher if Minnesota’s conversion rate (5.1%) was anywhere near his OISH% from the past two seasons (over 9.5%).
Moreover, he’s managed to incorporate more drive without compromising his puck management. He stays poised in the face of forecheckers, assessing his options and making quick, accurate passes to his outlets. In the offensive zone, he sticks to efficient decisions that put his teammates in good situations. He doesn’t force passes or take unnecessary risks. As such, he’s currently tied for the fewest turnovers among NHL defensemen.
Better yet, this improved play with the puck is complementing his still-remarkable exploits without it. Brodin remains an absolutely suffocating defender, using his smooth skating, disruptive stick and hockey sense to stymie offenses on a nightly basis.
Watch how diligently he works to maintain inside position, block shots and retrieve pucks:
Most of the time, there’s simply nowhere for attackers to go. He protects the house with serious precision and stubbornness. Every last detail in his defensive game is clinical—his angles, his gap, his timing on when to engage. It’s not some happy coincidence that he ranks fourth leaguewide in HDCA60.
His meticulous approach may not leap off the screen, but it’s the little things that add up to wins in the end. They did on Tuesday night as well.
With a somewhat adventurous partner like Dumba at the offensive blue line, Brodin takes the right depth to act as a safety net. Once Dumba fumbles the puck, Brodin immediately claims half the ice against Brock Boeser, effectively painting him into a corner. But instead of charging at him, which would provide the crafty sniper with a chance to slip through, he pivots, stands his ground and blocks Boeser’s shot with his trailing leg:
About 10 seconds later, Dumba pots the eventual game-winning tally.
In years past, that clip was Brodin in a nutshell. Spotless defense. He didn’t dictate the play, but the closer it got to his net, the more effective he became. He was very New York Islanders-y in that regard. But that was often the extent of his input.
Thus far in 2021-22, those limitations have vanished. This is particularly valuable given the slow starts by key forwards Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala (3 points in 6 games). By combining his gift for containment with a greater degree of activation, Brodin has posted three points in six games and is registering career bests in nearly every offensive and defensive metric. He’s showing that he can steady the troops and lead the charge.
He doesn’t settle for dominating the point of attack anymore. He’s dominating entire games.