SUN Hockey Pool

Sense of belonging

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

CHICAGO -- His goal at the start of the season was to make the team.

Then once on the roster, Kyle Brodziak wanted to avoid the process of moving between the Edmonton Oilers and their AHL affiliate in Springfield.

Now as the Oilers go into the Christmas break, Brodziak remains a fixture, while others in his situation have gone, returned and left again.

"I don't think you ever feel too comfortable until you've been in the league for at least a full year," Brodziak said prior to last night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks. "But I think I've been playing better as the year goes on and my whole goal is to keep getting better and better and never be really content where I'm at.

"I don't feel over-confident, but I feel like I belong out there and that's a good thing. My whole objective now is to just keep getting better as a player."

It's that sense of belonging Brodziak had to develop as the season went along. But the longer he continued to play well in his role as a fourth-line checker the less likely it became that he would be sent to Springfield.

Players like J.F. Jacques and Marc-Antoine Pouliot were returned to the minors.

"It's taken me a little while to get that sense of belonging," he said. "For parts of the last two seasons, were I was up for a little while, I never felt part of the NHL. It's tough to feel like you belong when you only play a few games at a time. The last month, I feel like I belong and I can contribute on a regular-basis."

Brodziak was the Oilers ninth pick (214th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Ninth-round picks usually don't pan out, however, he has worked hard to get to the NHL and has found a spot on the roster where Jacques - a second round pick and Pouliot - a first-round pick - couldn't.

"I think it was his spot to lose (in training camp)," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "He'd done everything at the American Hockey League level and he's one of those guys - like Fernie (Fernando Pisani) - that had great years down in the minors and progressed along like you're supposed to.

"He's played well, he's come along. I find him to be a real reliable forward that has the occasional offensive outburst in him. If he gets a chance, he can shoot it. If he gets an opportunity he can put it in the back of the net and I find him to be a real reliable player."

Heading into last night's contest, Brodziak had five goals and six assists in 35 games. Only four other players had more goals.

"I thought I started off all right, then I went through a little bit of a spell where I wasn't playing that well," Brodziak said.

"But as of late, I think I've been playing pretty well. I just have to keep playing the way I am, and hopefully it'll earn me a few more minutes."

Brodziak spent four years with the Moose Jaw Warriors before getting drafted by the Oilers. He scored 39 goals in his final year of junior.

From there he played a year with the Edmonton Roadrunners, a year with the Iowa Stars and a season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He had 56 points in 62 games with the Penguins last season.

"I think guys are smart enough to know who's battling for what spots and I think coming into camp it was obvious there were going to be a few spots open that were up for grabs," Brodziak said. "And I felt that I played my best that I could grab one of those spots and that's the way I came into camp."

Having solidified his spot on the team, Brodziak's goal is to continue to improve throughout the rest of the season.

He's become a valuable asset in a checking role as well as a penalty killer.

"He's getting more comfortable and I think that's a real important thing for Kyle," MacTavish said.


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