Sunday notebook: Brodzinski earns extension with Rangers

Photo: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

The New York Rangers had a need, and Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski has turned out to be the answer.

Brodzinski’s reward came Wednesday with a brand-new two-year contract extension. If the 30-year-old forward seems like an overnight success story, he isn’t. And new contract or not, he carries the lessons he learned through parts of nine seasons in the AHL.

“As soon as you get comfortable, bad things happen,” Brodzinski told the New York media hours after signing the deal. “You keep pushing. Every day is a new day.

“I’ve been through a lot… knowing that I could do it and never really getting the opportunity. Finally getting the opportunity and taking it. I think that’s the biggest thing – just not giving up.”

For years Brodzinski had flirted with NHL time, a perfect fill-in option but never someone quite able to stick. A 2013 fifth-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings, he spent parts of four seasons with the Ontario Reign beginning with the 2015-16 campaign. By his third pro season, he had managed to log 35 games with the Kings. But moving to the San Jose Sharks as a free agent in 2019 did not bear the NHL opportunity that he had sought, and it was off to the Rangers organization in 2020. Injuries along the way meant more obstacles as well.

Brodzinski put in stellar performances across parts of three seasons with the Wolf Pack while also notching 39 more NHL games with the Rangers. Still, NHL opportunities – let alone NHL one-way contracts – are not easily given to 30-year-olds who have spent the majority of their careers in the AHL.

But Brodzinski made a compelling case. The Rangers knew what they had with Brodzinski in terms of character. He wore the “C” in Hartford, and last season he helped carry the Wolf Pack down the stretch, posting 23 points (14 goals, nine assists) in a 13-game span as the club barged its way into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

He continued to dominate offensively in Hartford this season; at the time of his recall on Nov. 28, his 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) led the AHL.

Brodzinski has not been back since, dressing in a career season-high 39 games with the Rangers and chipping in 15 points (four goals, 11 assists). He is part of a group of more recent Hartford graduates in New York that includes Igor Shesterkin, Braden Schneider, Will Cuylle, Zac Jones, Adam Edstrom and Matt Rempe. He can fill a dependable, two-way center role, and is averaging 11:31 of ice time per game.

Brodzinski has a fan in Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette, someone who can relate to Brodzinski’s journey. A defenseman during his playing days, Laviolette’s 11 seasons in pro hockey were limited to 12 NHL games with the Rangers.

“He’s been terrific,” Laviolette told the New York media. “We were in need of someone to come up here and play well, provide some offense, some speed. He’s got such a great attitude, too. He went down there and did exactly what he was supposed to – put himself in a position to get called up. He came up here and played really well.

“He’s been good in the face-off circle. He sees the ice well. He’s helped out on the power play. It’s well deserved, and we’re happy to have him here.”

Want a bigger role and more ice time? Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach J.D. Forrest has plenty of it to offer.

Forrest’s team lost leading scorer Alex Nylander on Thursday when the parent Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to Columbus for Emil Bemstrom. Defenseman Will Butcher and forward Rem Pitlick departed via trades earlier this season. Jesse Puljujärvi earned a recall to Pittsburgh after his successful comeback stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Valtteri Puustinen remains in Pittsburgh, and Colin White was lost via waivers to Montreal.

Mix in a crush of injuries, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lineup has holes. And opportunity. The Penguins sit third in the Atlantic Division, but have found it difficult to gain separation from a pack of teams chasing them for a playoff berth this spring.

“You’re going to get more ice time,” Forrest said after Friday night’s 4-1 loss in Hershey. “You’re going to get looks in different spots. It’s a chance for players to make the case of why they belong on our team full-time or why we should use them in more situations. Throughout the league, that’s what happens. It’s a great opportunity for a lot of players, and we encourage them to snatch it up.

“You’ve got to make the most of it.”

Last night, defenseman Dmitri Samorukov, without a point in his previous 21 games, recorded a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins past Bridgeport, 4-1.

The road to the Calder Cup Playoffs will quite literally be that for the Iowa Wild for the next few weeks.

The Wild commenced a stretch of nine of 11 games on the road last night, falling 6-3 to Rockford. They move on to Chicago this afternoon before a pair of games at Grand Rapids followed by a trip into Milwaukee next weekend. After a two-game home set against Manitoba, the Wild go back to Grand Rapids in mid-March for another two-gamer.

The Moose ended an 11-game home losing streak by defeating Calgary last night, allowing them to slide a point ahead of the Wild for the fifth-place slot in the Central Division, where the top five teams will qualify for the postseason.

With a playoff fight and such a busy schedule ahead of them, top goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt got a rare night off as Zane McIntyre took the start against the IceHogs. Wallstedt had made eight consecutive starts.

The hockey business can change quickly for a free agent.

Goaltender Aaron Dell’s job search took the veteran deep into December before he took an opportunity to represent Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland. Then with Los Angeles Kings goaltender Pheonix Copley lost for the season and Ontario’s David Rittich promoted to fill that vacancy, the Reign needed a veteran partner for rookie Erik Portillo.

With 130 NHL games and a substantial body of work at the AHL level, the Reign brought Dell in Jan. 6 with an AHL contract for the rest of this season.

Reign head coach Marco Sturm has eased Dell into the club’s goaltending picture, as he made his debut on Jan. 27 at Tucson. In his fourth start this past Friday night, Dell earned his first win as a member of the Reign, making 33 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against Coachella Valley.

“I think I got a little more comfortable with the style of game the team plays and with the players individually as well,” Dell told “We’ve had a little bit of a tough stretch. We’ve worked on a lot of stuff the last couple of weeks, and I think that was the best 65-minute game I’ve seen us play yet.”