SUN Hockey Pool

Minor development

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

He's the Edmonton Oilers poster boy for minor league development.

They may want to put up a picture of Kyle Brodziak in the Springfield Falcons dressing room for motivational purposes.

A seventh-round pick (214th overall) in the 2003 entry draft, Brodziak was never really expected to play in the National Hockey League. Players chosen that far down the list often wash out, end up being career minor leaguers or find their way to Europe.

Yet the six-foot-two, 209-pound centre bided his time, developed his craft in the system, eventually earning an everyday spot in the Oilers lineup.

Now heading into his second season, Brodziak, 24, is a bona fide NHLer.

"I feel fairly confident going into the year, I feel I made some strides especially towards the end of last year," Brodziak said.

"I think I proved to myself that I can score in this league. That's what I'm trying to do - still play as responsible as I did in my own zone last year, but also try and contribute a bit more offensively.

"We're all excited about the season ... The new additions are going to be huge for us. The guys that were hurt for the majority of the year are back. That's going to be huge as far as experience goes, and as to what they can do on the ice, as well."

Brodziak finished with 14 goals and 17 assists in his first full season with the Oilers. He centred the team's fourth line and was a valuable penalty killer down the stretch.

"I think it took me a little while last year to gain some confidence," Brodziak said. "Before you play a full year, you don't really know what to expect. There are so many ups and downs. But by the end of the year I started to feel like I was belonging more and I started gaining confidence."

Brodziak is guaranteed his spot on the fourth line and will likely start the year between Zack Stortini and Marc Pouliot.

The trio played together in the Oilers' preseason victory over the Florida Panthers at Rexall Place on Friday.

"We've all played together before, we all know how we all play," Brodziak said.

"I think that would be a pretty easy transition to have Pouliot come and play in that spot. We're familiar with each other from our days back in the minors together."

A former junior star with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Brodziak began his professional career with the Edmonton Roadrunners during the NHL lockout.

He then spent a season with the Iowa Stars before going on to play with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Brodziak scored 24 goals in his final AHL season and played in Edmonton last year knowing he could be sent back at any moment.

Such won't be the case this year.

"It is quite a bit different," he said.

"Physically it's the same, you are working just as hard as you did the year before whether it be in the gym or on the ice.

"But mentally, I think it's been a little bit easier. It's not as stressful coming to the rink every day not having to worry whether you are staying or your going or where you're going to be.

"That helps a lot to relax and allows you to prepare when you get the ice."

So far during training camp Brodziak has played well. He scored the Oilers only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks last week.

The Oilers host the Calgary Flames (7 p.m.) Tuesday, before rounding out the exhibition season with a trip to Calgary and Dallas next weekend. They'll open the regular-season on Oct. 12th by hosting the Colorado Avalanche.

"I think, going into this year, I just have to remember what it is that gave me success before," Brodziak said.

"The last little while, towards the end of the year, I was playing a little less uptight, I wasn't as scared to make a mistake.

"When you're on the penalty-kill your mind is not racing 100 miles an hour, you are able to relax. You still have to work as hard as you can, without letting your mind play tricks on you."


Videos

Photos