Every successful NHL team has a few defensemen that may never put up gaudy point totals but who are mobile puck movers and are reliable in their own end of the ice. Seventeen-year-old Färjestads BK defenseman Jonas Brodin fits this profile.
Ranked third by Central Scouting among European team affiliated prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft, the teenager is actually ahead of the curve in terms of his decision-making with and without the puck. That is why the Karlstad, Sweden native is already a regular on the team that won the championship of Elitserien, the Swedish Elite League and is projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick.
Talk to any NHL scout who watched Brodin play this past season or to any NHL team official who met him at the annual Draft Combine and they inevitably use the adjectives "mature" and "level-headed" to describe the youngster.
After gaining some senior-level experience with Division I (Sweden's third-tier level) club Skåre BK in 2009-10, Brodin took a big step forward this season. Not only did he start 42 Elitserien regular games for Färjestad in 2010-11, he also dressed in all 14 of the team's playoff tilts. Brodin also played for Sweden's national Under-18 and Under-20 teams this season, serving as a key component of the Little Crowns' silver medal winning performance at the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championship.
Brodin failed to score a goal during the Elitserien regular season, but was credited with 4 assists. During the playoffs, he tallied a pair of goals, including the game-tying goal in the third period of FBK's 2-1 overtime win against Skellefteå AIK in Game 4 of the playoff finals. The victory gave Färjestad a commanding three games to one lead in the series. In the next game, the team completed its second championship in the last three years (and fourth in the last decade).
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Brodin's performance this past season was the poise he showed while playing against seasoned professionals in Elitserien, many of whom have extensive experience in international hockey and/or have suited up in the NHL. During the regular season, he posted a plus-minus rating of plus-6 while often being paired with Jonas Junland. In the playoffs, Brodin finished with a plus-2 rating. The team went 12-2 in the playoffs en route to the title.
"With many young players, they might have the natural talent to play at [the professional] level, but they aren't strong enough yet, mentally or physically," said new Vienna Capitals coach Tommy Samuelsson, who was behind the bench for FBK this past season.
"Jonas has a lot of maturity for a player his age, and we had total confidence in him on the ice. He doesn't panic under pressure, and that's the biggest thing for a young defenseman. There's little doubt that he has what it takes to be a good player anywhere, including the NHL."
Currently weighing about 170 pounds, the 6-foot-1 blueliner will likely need to add more muscle to his frame. He already has a sinewy build but added upper-body strength could help him win more of the battles in the trenches at the NHL level. Scouts say that he is already a smooth skater and makes crisp passes and intelligent decisions with the puck. Even under heavy forechecking, he rarely gets flustered. Although Brodin is not regarded as a heavy hitter or especially feisty, he is not afraid of contact. He is willing to take a hit if it makes the difference between getting the puck to safety or prolonged puck possession for the opposition. The youngster usually avoids taking bad penalties, and has never compiled more than a combined 20 PIMs in a full season of junior and senior hockey.
"In a lot of ways, he's a classic Swedish defenseman," said a scout for a Western Conference NHL club. "He's very calm and well-rounded in his game, not very flashy but he's effective. He won't put anyone through the boards, but he competes. I'd say for a player his age, he's a pretty safe pick to play in the NHL, because he doesn't have too many rough edges."
Whichever NHL team drafts Brodin this weekend will have two years from the time he is drafted to sign him to an entry-level contract. He is slated to play next season with Färjestad but may be ready to make the transition to North American hockey by the 2012-13 campaign.
Brodin has shown flashes of offensive potential at times as he rose through Sweden's junior hockey ranks and the national team program. For instance, he racked up 3 goals and 11 points in 7 games during the playoffs with Färjestad's J18 squad in 2010. However, he is generally not projected as a major scoring threat at the sport's highest levels. If he takes care of business defensively and uses his skating and passing skills to get the puck to the forwards on breakouts, Brodin will be doing the job expected of him.
For his part, the youngster is eager to see where he is drafted but has taken the process in stride. Brodin performed well in fitness testing at the Combine and met with representatives of almost every NHL club during the event. He has said he does not have a feel for which clubs may have the most interest.
"Wherever I get drafted, I have to prepare the same way," Brodin told NHL.com. "It's exciting but the Draft is only one day. It doesn't really matter to me which team I go to. There's still a lot of work that I need to do afterwards."