As a player born in 1993, St. Cloud State sophomore-to-be Jonny Brodzinski is in his final year of draft eligibility. But after being ignored by the NHL in his first two years of draft eligibility, Brodzinski looks to have a decent chance at being picked this time around, after NHL Central Scouting ranked him 132nd among North American skaters in their final rankings. It's not hard to figure out why he's drawn the attention of the NHL either, after an incredible freshman season where he scored 22 goals, putting him tied for fifth nationally among NCAA players, and ahead of players like Nick Bjugstad, Anders Lee, and Ben Hanowski, who have already scored goals in the NHL.
It's not as if Brodzinski was a complete unknown to NHL teams prior to this year. He might have been the most closely scouted in the year prior to his first NHL draft year as a high school junior, when he was a linemate of first round NHL draft pick Nick Bjugstad at Blaine High School in Minnesota. Brodzinski put up points that year, as most anyone with that type of support would, but his heavy feet and lack of effort on both ends of the ice caused a lot of teams to write him off as a prospect.
In his senior year, however, Brodzinski reinvented himself, taking on a leadership role for his high school team, and putting in a lot of work to improve his skating. His stellar year earned him a scholarship to play for St. Cloud State, but while some considered him an NHL Draft prospect, he ended up being passed over in the 2011 NHL Draft. The following year, that decision to overlook him appeared to be the right choice as he struggled to put up points while playing for the Fargo Force of the USHL, scoring just 10 goals and 12 assists in 58 games.
As a result, expectations were pretty low for Brodzinski heading into St. Cloud State this past season. But two things helped Brodzinski to such a successful freshman campaign with the Huskies. First, St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko has known the Brodzinski family for a long time, so there was a certain comfort level between the two, allowing him to get the most out of Brodzinski's abilities. Second, St.Cloud's top incoming freshman, Joey Benik, broke his leg during the team's first team practice, opening up a spot on St. Cloud's top line. Brodzinski took over that spot, playing alongside Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc, who was arguably the best passer in the country. Playing on that line opened up a lot of opportunities for Brodzinski to take advantage of his great shooting abilities and score a lot of goals.
So what does an up-and-down progression like that mean? Brodzinski has the talent and ability to someday be an NHL player. His skating is average at best, but he has improved it to the point that it wouldn't be a major liability, and he has an ability to shoot the puck and score goals that few players have. A 20+ goal season at the NCAA level is no joke, and a number that many future NHLers don't even reach. But the inconsistent performance may be a red flag for some teams. Motivation seems to be the big X factor for him. When he finds a way to have a fire lit under him, he's definitely a next-level type of player. When he's just playing for the sake of playing, he's not. I suspect some teams feel they'll be able to light that fire under him and be interested, while others won't be interested in taking on that challenge.
All that likely adds up to Brodzinski being on the bubble to be drafted in the last couple rounds of the draft. Undrafted players that put up those types of numbers in NCAA hockey are usually sought after by numerous NHL clubs as free agents. If Brodzinski continues scoring at the pace he has--which admittedly, could be tough with LeBlanc graduating and moving on to the Chicago Blackhawks--a 6th or 7th round pick seems a small price to pay for exclusive negotiating rights to the type of player multiple teams usually fight over in the free agent market.