Who is Hunter Brzustewicz? Get to know the Flames’ new defensive outlook

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Hunter Brzustewicz has a legitimate shot at winning the Ontario Hockey League scoring title this season.

Like blue line.

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It’s that offensive ability and upside that makes Brzustewicz, 19, the most intriguing of the five pieces acquired by the Calgary Flames in Wednesday’s blockbuster trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

“(Brzustewicz) was a big part of this deal,” Flames general manager Craig Conroy said after sending star center Elias Lindholm to the West Coast. “We have always liked it. And the year he is having has taken it to another level.”

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In fact, when the details of Wednesday’s dinnertime trade became official and Flames fans scrambled to Google the new players, Brzustewicz’s stats must have gotten a lot of attention.

The Michigan-bred rearguard has accumulated 69 points in 47 appearances this season with the Kitchener Rangers. Heading into Thursday’s action, he was four points behind the overall OHL scoring lead, behind a pair of forwards.

The right-handed Brzustewicz is also the best on the circuit with 61 assists. There is no other guy who has passed 50.

“Hunter is a really talented player and a really smart player,” Rangers general manager Mike McKenzie said. “He sees the ice very well and is very composed. So there’s a lot of pucks and plays that other guys can just put in a shin pad or throw it off the glass or into the corner, where Hunter holds on to it and makes a move and the next thing you know it’s the backdoor. to a boy and it’s on the net.

“He does a lot of things like that, extending plays and creating something out of nothing, that other guys maybe couldn’t do.”

There are plenty of reasons for Flames fans to be excited about Wednesday’s trade: right winger Andrei Kuzmenko could be working right away on Calgary’s main power play unit, Joni Jurmo adds some size to the system and Conroy was able snatch the first round from Vancouver. pick this summer, plus a conditional fourth too, but you can bet the Brzustewicz surname is being butchered in every hockey-crazed household, from Brentwood to Braeside, from the Beltline to Bedington Heights. (By the way, it’s pronounced Brew-STEHV-itch).

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“I don’t want to put all the pressure on him,” Conroy warned during an interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “But we’re very excited about him as a prospect.”

Is easy to see why.

Hunter Brzustewicz, a high-scoring blueliner for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, was traded to the Calgary Flames as a key piece in Elias Lindholm's return package.
Hunter Brzustewicz, a high-scoring blueliner for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, was traded to the Calgary Flames as a key piece in Elias Lindholm’s return package. Tiffany Luke/Cooks Rangers

Brzustewicz, who is 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, has put up big numbers at every level.

He’s an ace on the power play, although it’s worth nothing that 72% of his points this season have come in even situations.

In the lead-up to the 2023 NHL draft, where he was ultimately selected by the Canucks in the third round, FC Hockey scouts described Brzustewicz as a “gifted puck-moving defenseman” and cited his “excellent skating” as his better quality. adding that he is “very responsible with the puck and demonstrates solid hockey IQ.”

The coup, as noted in the FC’s annual draft guide, has always been his work in his own zone. The Flames’ newest addition (he has yet to sign an initial contract, but that shouldn’t be an immediate concern) is determined to address those criticisms.

“The questions during his draft year were always about defense as an undersized defenseman,” McKenzie said. “You know, can he fight back hard enough? Can he clear the front of the net? Can he win battles in the corner? And I think he’s almost taking it personally when people say that, and he’s really improved in that area this year.

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“Obviously there is still a long way to go. Pro is a completely different level, with bigger and stronger guys. But it has made some pretty significant steps in those areas.

“He’s really shopped that way. Our defensive coach, Brad Flynn, was really impressed with that throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, it was more about points, power play, all that. He says that now he is almost more focused on defending, taking penalties and things like that. So it’s been a really positive development and you can see it in his game as well.”

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And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to see a blueliner, especially in the final weeks of the regular season, challenge for the OHL scoring title?

Flames fans will surely be paying attention.

“There are a lot of great defensemen and players in this league and I just wanted to be recognized as one of them,” Brzustewicz told NHL.com last month. “I think I’ve gotten my name out there and I’m still hoping to do that.”

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