If you ask Minnesota Wild fans who the team’s most underrated player is, they’ll probably say it’s Jonas Brodin. Almost anyone who watches most games would come to this conclusion. The smooth-skating Swede at a standstill is not getting enough league attention as he should. For years he has provided stability and consistency on a Wild blue line that has been one of the best in the league for his entire career. By all accounts, he’s an elite defenseman in the NHL. He won’t impress you with his offensive ability, and he doesn’t need to either. His skating, awareness and defensive positioning make him one of the best stoppage defenders in the game.
When the Wild bought Ryan Suter, that meant more minutes and quality of competition for Brodin. Suter has averaged just over 27 minutes per game during his Minnesota career. Replacing it was never going to be an easy task. How did wild management solve this problem? They signed Alex Goligoski, Jon Merrill and Dmitry Kulikov for one-year contracts. Goligoski was helpful, and Merrill and Kulikov formed a better-than-expected partnership on the third couple. More importantly, Minnesota gets Norris-caliber performances from Jonas Brodin every night.
Wild fans don’t need to be told how awesome he really is. We’ve known that since he joined the team at the age of 19 in 2012.
He has managed to make defense easy throughout his career. He is above all a gifted skater, one of the best in the league. He might not be as fast as Connor McDavid, Mathew Barzal, or some of the other NHL speed demons. But he’s fast enough to keep up with them. Of course, this is a valuable skill to have as a defender. This allows him to win puck races, get involved in the attack and make defensive recoveries.
Brodin reads the game brilliantly. His defensive anticipation is second to none, and he often interrupts passes with well-timed body checks. The same goes for his ability to block shots, a valuable asset for any defender. He’s always been a penalty killer for the Wild, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes to make his goalie’s life easier.
He’s never produced to the pace of other top defensemen in the league, but Brodin’s career possession numbers speak for themselves. He’s only had two seasons with a even-matched high odds rate of less than 50%, both in his first four seasons. The same goes for the expected goal rate.
His development into a defensive mainstay has been a pleasure to watch. He’s easily one of the most underrated players in the league. It’s a shame that the 18th is the highest that he even finished in the Norris vote. It is disrespectful for a player of his quality. If there was an award for top defensive back, Carolina’s Brodin and Jaccob Slavin would top the list.
Brodin’s impact on the Wild was evident during a disastrous road trip in December that saw the Wild drop back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights. Brodin didn’t play those two games due to an upper body injury, and the Wild looked lost at the back without him. Matt Dumba had one of his worst games of the season against the Kings, and the Wild saw their eight-game winning streak ended in a 2-1 loss.
It was a similar story against Vegas. Minnesota has been completely outclassed and generally dominated. Vegas dominated possession, generating 19 high-quality chances against the Wild’s 9. Brodin’s absence was notable, as the Wild’s blue line played more conservatively than what we’re used to seeing from them. Bad exits of the whole team? Sure. But having the reliable and rugged Brodin in the lineup would have been a long way.
The upper body injury has completely healed, but Brodin was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol early Tuesday morning. If he’s asymptomatic, he’ll need to test negative for COVID on consecutive days to clear the protocol. That protocol took Brodin out of the Winter Classic, and the Wild sorely missed him there. Minnesota trailed St. Louis in chances to score by a 17-3 margin at the end of the second period. Without Brodin (and Jared Spurgeon), no one was putting the puck back on the ice or preventing Jordan Kyrou from scoring. A quick return to the game for Brodin will be urgent for the Wild.
The NHL schedule is affected daily by COVID, but the Wild have scheduled games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers for the start of the new year. It would be nice to have Brodin against McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin and the Boston Perfection Line.
Kirill Kaprizov is Minnesota’s best player, but no player is more crucial to this team’s success than Brodin. He might not get the same national recognition as the other top defensemen in the league, but Minnesota fans know how much of an impact he has on the ice. He is an elite player in this league, and he should be considered for the Norris Trophy in the NHL awards season.