Brodie steps up against veterans

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

Finally. Finally. Finally.

For years, the Flames have wanted a young player to stand out from the pack during training camp.

As successful as the Darryl Sutter era has been in the Stampede City — sure, there have been too many disappointments, but there have been good seasons — there haven’t been any diamonds in the rough who suddenly shone brightly.

Dion Phaneuf doesn’t count. Everybody knew the blueliner was ready for prime time when he turned pro in the fall of 2005.

Other players who have made the jump have done so in a methodical manner.

During a training camp where the Flames absolutely needed a player to catch eyes and turn heads to build some excitement for the future, T.J. Brodie has burst on the scene.

The 20-year-old defenceman making the step from junior first stood out during the prospect tournament in B.C. a few weeks ago. His presence among the veterans when main camp opened couldn’t be missed.

And that two-goal performance in Saturday’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was downright electric.

Even Brodie has been caught off guard with how well things have gone.

“It’s exceeded expectations so far. It couldn’t go any better than it has,” he said. “But I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Which is a good reminder for all those clamouring see Brodie on the Flames roster when the season opens Oct. 7 in Edmonton.

As much as the Flames would love to proclaim Brodie is ready to be a full-time NHLer with Calder Trophy potential and a Norris Trophy future, they can’t.

More importantly, they won’t push him into a sink-or-swim situation.

They don’t have to thanks to the surplus of NHL-calibre blueliners here, which is a great thing.

For starters, it would be hard to shoehorn Brodie into the NHL roster.

The Flames already have enough salary cap concerns thanks to a blueline crew with eight players on one-way deals and a ninth — 2005 first-round draft choice Matt Pelech — who must clear waivers to go to the minors.

Strictly from a business point of view, Calgary would have to find a way to jettison as many as three defenceman to make a spot to have Brodie in the lineup.

Then comes the possibility he may not be ready at this point.

Let’s face it, a couple of pre-season games isn’t a true test whether a defenceman can cut it through an NHL season.

Maybe he’s this year’s hotshot blueliner ready to make a splash, but are fans willing to make a bet he is? Are the Flames?

It doesn’t sound like it.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead. He still has lots to learn, but he’s starting kind of ahead of the starting line right now,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “Now, we’ve got to use that to our advantage, allow him to flourish his talents, but also teach him some other aspects of the game that can really help him.”

Which means a year — or even most of a year — in the minors would do the 2008 fourth-round pick a world of good.

The Flames have already used Duncan Keith as a comparable with Brodie. They think that highly of him to mention the reigning Norris Trophy winner who was part of Canada’s gold-medal winning Olympic team in the same sentence.

But even Keith spent two full seasons in the minors, learning how to play the pro game.

Brodie would be well served to do the same under the tutelage of Abbotsford Heat head coach Jim Playfair.

Should Brodie continue to shine through the pre-season and force the Flames to keep him, outstanding.

If he doesn’t, at least the club finally has a prospect to carry high hopes.

They know it.

“He’s not just your robotic player,” Sutter said. “He’s active and makes things happen, and he’s so coachable it’s exciting.”

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