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.
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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