After looking at two of the Flames' most exciting forward prospects, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at how some of the team's rookies did this past year in a season that was full of emergency call-up and holes in the lineup that were filled by first-time or junior NHLers--with varying degrees of success.
One of the players that pulled his weight this season without question was defenceman T.J. Brodie. Every regular Flames defender apart from Jay Bouwmeester
was injured at some point during the 2011-12 season, and Brodie was thrown into a variety of roles with a variety of partners before succumbing to an upper-body injury near the end of the year.
Despite that, Brodie was still relatively sheltered by Brent Sutter and the Flames' coaching staff. In his average 14:41 of ES ice time per game, Brodie faced the easiest quality of competition of all regular Flames defenders who played 40+ games, and had the best offensive ZS ratio at 51.9%. He also played an average of almost 2:00 on the PP per game and barely any time on the PK--which is quite impressive for a rookie defender like Brodie, who scored six of his fourteen points with the man advantage.
Back in April, Robert Vollman concluded
that the projections for Brodie's performance following his transition from the AHL to the NHL were very accurate, as the 21-year-old scored at a rate of 0.26 points/game in a season shortened by injury, very close to and slightly better than the projected scoring rate of 0.24 points/game.
It should not go unmentioned that Brodie still had the best Corsi rate of any regular Flames defender at +3.34/60, which means that he was often able to outplay opposing players and even occasionally make them look downright silly. Cory Sarich
, who faced a slightly harder level of comp than Brodie, was the only other Flames defender with a positive Corsi rate this past season and Derek Smith
, who played at around the same level of Sarich, was in the red.
In the context of last season, Brodie made excellent progress after being sent back down to the Heat following his appearance in the first three games of the 2010-11 season with the Flames and drawing criticism
from both Jay Feaster and former Heat coach Jim Playfair. Next season, however, is a whole different ball game.
Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan
, both UFAs, could be (and some would argue, should be) gone come July 1, and Anton Babchuk
and the $2.5M remaining on his contract could be moved after he appeared in only 32 games last season. What does this mean for Brodie? Is the former fourth-round pick ready to move up in the lineup or does he need further experience, building his confidence against the opposition's bottom sixers and following a more Mark Giordano-esque development curve? Much of this will depend on how Feaster's personnel decisions shake down this summer and the path he chooses to go down with the organization (i.e. whether he drafts a defenceman--someone like Reinhart comes to mind--or picks up some mid-to-low price UFAs to fill gaps in the lineup, although that is for another post closer to Canada day).