Flyers

Bet on Bobby Brink, a Flyers prospect bringing 'elite' smarts to Denver hockey

Bet on Bobby Brink, a Flyers prospect bringing 'elite' smarts to Denver hockey

Paul Stastny was taken in the second round of the 2005 draft after his freshman season at the University of Denver.

In 2006-07, he was the runner-up to Evgeni Malkin for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Stastny, now 34 years old and in his 14th NHL season, scored 28 goals and 78 points that first year with the Avalanche. He's gone on to become an NHL All-Star and put up 726 points (250 goals, 476 assists) in 945 career games.

Whenever David Carle is posed a question regarding concerns with Bobby Brink's skating ability, he thinks of Stastny.

Brink, an 18-year-old Flyers prospect, is also a second-round pick and product of Denver. Various scouting reports have highlighted Brink's skating as a flaw.

"People said Paul Stastny was a bad skater, too, during his time at Denver," Carle, the Pioneers' 30-year-old head coach, said last Friday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "And similar in the sense that Paul was passed over for some USA stuff early on in his career at the same age as Bob. Paul has gone on to do pretty well for himself because of his brain and his understanding of the game. And I think Bob is going to end up being a better skater than Stas, but my point is, you can’t discount [Brink’s] hockey sense, which is elite.”

After slipping into the second round of last summer's draft, where the Flyers scooped him up at 34th overall, Brink had a productive freshman season with Denver, scoring 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) through 28 games. His 0.39 goals per game were second most on a Pioneers team that was ranked sixth nationally, while his 0.86 points per game were eighth best among all freshmen in the country.

Brink thrives on guile, skill and outwitting the opposition. With those characteristics, he has scored proficiently at every step of the way, especially in the USHL during his draft year.

But Brink has found himself doubted often by others, going back to his high school days. He played at Minnetonka in Minnesota, a hockey hotbed of a state. Still, invites and interest never poured in — and maybe that's a good thing. Brink has become accustomed to earning everything, which should only help when he eventually aims to prove himself at the pro level.

He'll have to continue to fight the whole undersized stigma as a 5-foot-8, 164-pound winger.

What about the skating? The Flyers' scouting report was fine and Carle would sign off on it.

I’ve been asked that before by media and for me, it’s an easy answer — I don’t think there’s any issue with his skating. You could watch clips of him this year against some pretty good hockey players and his skating is just fine — and it’s only going to get better as he increases his range of motion and his ankle flexion and his hip drop and those are the types of things that he’s working on with our strength and conditioning coach Matt Shaw. For me, skating, not an issue. Brain is too good.

I think Bob has always been motivated. Obviously at the time of us recruiting him, I think we were the only school talking to him. There are five schools in the state of Minnesota, right? I think Bob has always, for whatever reason, been doubted a little bit. He didn’t make the Hlinka team, he didn’t get invited to the USA 49 camp — Bob always has a burning fire inside of him that maybe doesn’t come across when you’re meeting him off the ice, but when it’s time to get on the ice, he’s a gamer and I’d bet on him all day long.

(Shannon Valerio/Denver Athletics)

As a determined 15-year-old high school freshman battling the flu, Brink won over Carle, who was an assistant coach at the time under Jim Montgomery.

"Actually watched him play Prior Lake on the Olympic sheet and sick and a freshman — and felt like he was the best player on the ice," Carle said. "I loved his ability to win battles, his vision, his poise, just his overall sense of knowing where everyone on the ice is."

Brink committed to Denver about a month later.

"Obviously we were really excited," Carle said. "He had a dominant sophomore campaign at Minnetonka, made the transition to the USHL in his junior year, accelerated and then came to Denver." 

With the Pioneers, Brink finished his freshman season on a six-game point streak but didn't play after mid-February because of three different injuries, all of which were minor, Carle said.

Despite some fewer games because of the injuries and playing in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, Brink made another solid transition to a higher level.

"Typically the kids with the better hockey sense don’t take as long to translate their games," Carle said. "You saw that with Bob — from Minnesota high school hockey to winning Forward of the Year in the USHL and then coming into our league and into college is no easy feat. And Bob did a great job.

"I think early on he was adjusting to the level but he was still making plays, not as many finishing plays as you would like. But then once he came back from the world juniors, I thought he was a pretty consistent performer for us in the second half."

Carle watched Brink expand his game as a freshman. It wasn't offense or nothing with the playmaking winger.

“We don’t talk a lot about roles necessarily as much as what we value out of our players, so I can answer it that way," Carle said. "What we really value about Bob first and foremost is his hockey sense, his ability to make plays and generate offense for us on the power play and 5-on-5. I think where he started to add more value was his play without the puck, used him on the penalty kill a little bit and I think for Bob to be a great player at our level, and I believe that he will do it and can do it, with his sense, we’re going to want him on the ice as much as we can get him out there.

"So I think he can add a lot of value in his play without the puck, his stick details, his angling, his puck pressure and I expect all of those to continue to grow to make him an even more impactful player offensively for us.”

The Pioneers will "expect really big things" from Brink as a sophomore, Carle said. Denver knows the shy but motivated kid from Minnetonka. In 2020-21, the Pioneers hope many others do, as well.

"I think one thing maybe people wouldn’t know about him or understand is really his joy and his passion for the game," Carle said. "Because when you do just meet him, he is a little boyish, he’s giggling and you don’t really know how to take him — but, man, the kid loves to be on the ice, he loves to work on his craft and to get better. There’s a true passion and a drive inside of him.

"Bob relishes the moment of being in the arena and competing. That might be the biggest thing that maybe surprises people when they just meet him or they’re getting to know him.”

Which is apt for Brink, who doesn't mind surprising.

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Will Flyers re-sign Justin Braun, Derek Grant when NHL free agency rolls around?

Will Flyers re-sign Justin Braun, Derek Grant when NHL free agency rolls around?

July 1 came and went rather quietly in the hockey world. Annually, the day is filled with players signing new contracts and joining new teams as the free agency period officially opens.

This year, that was obviously not the case. As the NHL and NHLPA continue to work toward a resumption and eventual conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the entry draft and free agency must wait.

According to a report by TSN's Bob McKenzie, both sides are looking at Nov. 1 being the new July 1.

The offseason will be different and challenging considering the times. The salary cap floor, which typically climbs each year, is expected to remain flat at $81.5 million. In an excellent article published Wednesday, TSN's Frank Seravalli highlighted the key questions and challenges facing free agency, while outlining his top 50 pending unrestricted free agents.

On Seravalli's list were two current Flyers: Justin Braun at No. 19 and Derek Grant at No. 41. Will the Flyers re-sign them? With the league's return-to-play 24-team tournament still to be held, a lot can change from now until Nov. 1, but let's break down the Flyers' outlook for both of these players.

Braun

The case for Braun is interesting and the chances of the Flyers re-signing the experienced defenseman feel like 50-50. Braun, a stay-at-home blueliner who specializes in killing plays, helped stabilize the Flyers on the back end and improved their goal-prevention efforts (which were a major problem last season).

However, the Flyers will be cognizant of his age. Braun is 33 years old and made $3.8 million this season. At the current stage of his career, what will Braun be eyeing for his next deal? One would think he'd have to look for a cheaper price if he wants more years on his new contract, something that can be attractive to a veteran player eyeing job security.

The Flyers, though, have solid youth and depth at his position, along with a nice stable of blue-line prospects in the system. Understandably, for those reasons the Flyers might be wary of dedicating years to an older defenseman.

If Braun is willing to be pretty flexible in his terms, the Flyers shouldn't be opposed to bringing him back. He has made them better in 2019-20. But if push comes to shove a bit, especially in a tighter offseason, the Flyers may have to say thank you and move forward with their youngsters or another option.

Grant

The initial impression of the Grant trade deadline acquisition was good rental for cheap.

What made Grant such a cost-effective move by general manager Chuck Fletcher? Grant, 29 years old at the time, could help the playoff-hungry Flyers down the stretch with only a $700,000 cap hit and no years left on his contract.

Grant made such a positive impact in his seven-game regular-season audition with the Flyers that they'll absolutely consider re-signing him. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound center also delivered a timely career year of 15 goals and 25 points between his time with the Ducks and Flyers, setting himself up for a nice pay increase.

Grant should be appealing to bring back for the Flyers because he can play down the middle and on the wing; his ability to move around makes him less likely to block a Flyers prospect at a specific position. If Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) is healthy in 2020-21 and the Flyers are deeper at center, Grant can help on the wing. If Patrick's situation remains uncertain and the Flyers lack depth, Grant can bolster things by playing his natural position.

The 24-team tournament could really factor into the Grant equation. If the 30-year-old has an influential tourney and the Flyers go on a run, he could win over the club. He's a quality bottom-six guy who won't require a hefty contract that severely handcuffs the Flyers next season or down the line.

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Flyers Talk podcast: NHL hub cities, free agency, more

Flyers Talk podcast: NHL hub cities, free agency, more

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Katie Emmer and Jordan Hall analyze the team's decisions for free agency and the playoffs.

From roster talk to the latest on the 24-team tournament, let's dive in:

0:45 — The latest on where the Flyers might play

4:15 — July is much different this time around

7:00 — Will the Flyers re-sign Derek Grant and Justin Braun?

21:20 — Keep an eye on Morgan Frost

26:00 — What to expect from Nate Thompson

30:15 — Appreciating Sean Couturier's faceoff excellence

36:35 — Katie's birthday is Monday, July 6!

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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