Wild's Brodin: Funny, fun, and really good
CHICAGO — There are a lot of things we don't know about young Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin.
"Secretly, he's pretty fun," said Charlie Coyle.
"He's one of the funniest kids I've ever met," said Jason Zucker.
"And he's a pretty good cook," Coyle added. "Mostly pasta and cereal."
Well, it's tough to get cereal just right. How much milk is too much milk?
"He's awesome," said Zucker. "He gets in on all our jokes and makes sure he's having a good time with us. We chirp at him, and he chirps at us."
But in the Minnesota Wild dressing room, Brodin is a quiet, skinny kid who looks out of place surrounded by playoff beards and abrasive personalities. Just 19, he is the biggest surprise of the Wild season.
Some say he is among the front-runners to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Brodin joins Ryan Suter on the top defense pairing, plays in all situations and averages more than 23 minutes a game.
Ahead of his time
Against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 on Tuesday, Brodin stood out, calmly moving the puck out of trouble and always stationed in just the right place despite all the commotion going on around him. The Wild obviously knew he'd be a good player but not so soon. Nineteen-year-olds simply do not contribute in this league.
"You have to be extremely impressed how a kid like that goes into Chicago in their first NHL playoff game and performs like that," coach Mike Yeo said Thursday. "It just shows you his poise and mental makeup."
Brodin lives on the same floor in the same apartment building as Coyle and Zucker. When Mikael Granlund gets called up, he makes it a foursome. They look after each other, a gaggle of rookies in the big time. Coyle does the driving. Brodin attempts to cook every so often.
"Because he is a bad cook," Brodin said of Coyle. "We live in the same apartment house here in St. Paul, and we hang out and go for dinner and stuff."
"It's just nice to have guys around your own age here," said Coyle. "Obviously, we stick together. We pretty much live together. It's nice to have guys the same age, so we can hang out."
They have their own little support group. Coyle has had a good rookie season, playing on the top line. Zucker has shown flashes and was conspicuous in the first playoff game. But it's Brodin who has turned everyone's head. He is exceptionally smooth in his own zone. He may be the most poised 19-year-old on the planet.
"The first (playoff) game was really fun," he said. "I was excited. We played pretty good, but we lost. It's a good experience to play in the playoffs, and it's a little bit different from the regular season. It's a step higher with everything. The crowd, the intensity, it's all higher."
Playing big minutes
Brodin played 34 minutes in the overtime opener. Only Suter played more.
"I'm pretty used to playing a lot on the international team and the Swedish league team," Brodin said. "I mean, it's fun to play that much."
Again, he's just 19. He probably could race the team bus back to the hotel without getting winded. Yeo doesn't hesitate to use Brodin in any situation. But Yeo said the kid has earned that trust. Playing with Suter helps, of course. But the veteran doesn't have to cover for the rookie very often.
Brodin isn't perfect. At about 165 pounds he isn't nearly strong enough to handle some of the NHL's big forwards. Chances are, though, he'll fill out. He's also hesitant to jump into the play on offense. Brodin skates and shoots well enough to get more involved at the other end. But as with most young defensemen, it will take time before he is comfortable doing that. He'll get to that point more quickly than most. He's an unusual kid. And if you're wondering how unusual ...
"I actually like Finns," he mentioned during our dressing room chat. "They're nice guys. I don't have anything against them."
I was teasing him about the Wild's tradition of signing Finnish players. Sweden and Finland have one of the world's great rivalries in, well, everything. When Swedish defenseman Kim Johnsson played for the Wild, I used to ask him -- jokingly, of course -- how he liked sharing the dressing room with Mikko Koivu, Nik Backstrom, Petteri Nummelin and Antti Miettinen.
"That's why my locker is next to the door," Johnsson said with a laugh. "In case I have to make a getaway."
As time goes on, Brodin will gain weight, strength and confidence in his offensive abilities. Until then, he's still pretty darn good. But just imagine when he grows up.