Who had Troy Brouwer emerging as the most consistent performer over the first month of the Calgary Flames’ season?
It’s safe to say the veteran has surprised all with his performance thus far, as the 31-year-old has posted six points (three goals, three assists) through the first nine games of the campaign, good for second on the team.
While it’s almost certain Brouwer won’t still be that high on the list of team scorers by season’s end, the offensive contribution has to be a comforting sign for general manager Brad Treliving. Perhaps the only one, as the club’s other experiments are only just beginning to pan out (see: Elliott, Brian).
But Brouwer’s influence goes far beyond his surprising scoring run.
On a team that boasts dynamic young stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett, alongside defensive mainstays like Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, the newcomer Brouwer has been the one pulling the team’s weight so far.
He’s chipped in with a bit of everything – posting a point in all but three games this season, adding some valuable offense to the team’s previously awful special teams units (two power play points and one shorthanded goal), posting at least two shots in six of nine contests, and delivering a few well-placed hits in each game as well (leading the team with 25 hits in total).
The most remarkable thing about that consistency is the fact that Brouwer has done it all while his role has continued to fluctuate. His ice-time has dipped as low as 13:31 and has peaked at 19:37 as head coach Glen Gulutzan has used the versatile veteran to plug different holes in the lineup.
He’s been sent over the boards most often with young gun Sam Bennett, helping guide the sophomore as he aims to break out and become a consistent scorer at the NHL level. The results have come so far, as Bennett sits level with Brouwer statistically though nine games, with a matching line of three goals and three assists to his name (all coming in the past four games).
Calgary’s other young rising star, Matthew Tkachuk, has been soaking up all that Brouwer has to say as well, as the former Stanley Cup champion continues to show him how to balance playing with a physical edge, staying out of the penalty box, and remaining a consistent, adaptable offensive threat.
The 18-year-old has managed a goal and two assists through his first seven contests thus far, taking Brouwer’s guidance to heart and pushing for a permanent stay with the big club.
And Treliving is likely breathing a hefty sigh of relief, because at times Brouwer has seemed to be the only unquestionable thing on the roster.
The Flames have strung together a few wins and are looking to have shaken off their early-season jitters, but it remains to be seen how much damage their slow start has done. For a team that last made the playoffs in the final week of the season – and by the slimmest of margins – that 1-5 start could make things interesting come season’s end.
Treliving gambled big on a few key changes during the offseason, with the most prominent being the decision to bring in a new coach and a new starting netminder. However, Elliott struggled mightily out of the gate, while Gulutzan’s system has looked far from perfect thus far as well.
But amid all that uncertainly, Brouwer has continued to do precisely what he’s done his entire career. Put the puck in the net and throw his weight around.
It may seem like a simple formula, but it’s all Brouwer has needed to become a reliable secondary scorer in the league. He’s remained impressively consistent throughout his career, finishing within the 20-goal range or higher in each of the past seven seasons (i.e. every season since his rookie campaign), while finishing with over 200 hits on five different occasions as well (including the past three seasons).
It’s still early, but Brouwer has given every indication that he’ll be able to provide enough of a scoring touch to reach that 20-goal plateau again, and he’s well on his way to posting a couple hundred hits as well.
The importance of that exceptional fit isn’t him reaching those arbitrary totals, however. Rather, it’s what the balance of those two totals mean. At his best, he’s been a player who can be a legitimate scoring threat each game, while also providing enough physicality to cause the opposition to hesitate when they see him coming.
And through the season’s opening month, he’s already proven he can be that player in Calgary as well.
Considering the Flames didn’t need to give up anyone to bring that balance of skill to their lineup, that’s a tremendously valuable addition – especially in a Western Conference that features plenty of skilled teams with big bodies on their rosters.
Add in the fact that Brouwer is also killing penalties, suiting up on the top power play unit, and mentoring the club’s young stars, and it seems he’s well worth the $4.5 million the Flames are shelling out for him annually.
While the rest of the team continues to find their footing and climb back up to their expected level, Brouwer is simply ploughing ahead as usual, relying on the same effective style he’s honed over the past eight years in the big leagues.
That might seem to be of little consequence right now, but for a team as young and streaky as the Flames, Brouwer’s consistent stability could wind up being a key factor in the club’s return to the postseason in 2017.