OTTAWA — Jonny Brodzinski is in his ninth season of professional hockey. For most of that time, he has shuffled back and forth between the NHL and the minor leagues, always hoping and working hard to be ready for his shot at the big time, if it ever came.
It seems to have come now.
Brodzinski, who was called up last week after Kaapo Kappo was injured, was set to play his fifth game of the season Tuesday when the Rangers visited the Ottawa Senators. For the second straight game, Brodzinski skated at right wing on the Blueshirts’ top forward line with center Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. He’d debuted in that spot in Sunday’s wild 6-5 win over the Sharks and had two assists. This after having two assists in Saturday’s 4-3 win in Nashville.
Four points in two games made an impression on Rangers coach Peter Laviolette.
“I think at times when you recall somebody (from the minor leagues), you automatically think that they'll take the 12th (forward) spot in the lineup,’’ Laviolette said at Tuesday’s morning skate. “And his game had been much more than that, certainly down in the American Hockey League, where he was (the league’s) leading scorer.
“He's got four points in four games (this season), and so we're not going to switch that right now.’’
Brodzinski had looked like a lock to make the opening night roster early in the preseason. But when rookie Will Cuylle forced his way onto the team, Brodzinski was sent to AHL Hartford. He didn’t pout, but instead tore up the AHL. He was leading the league with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 16 games when he was recalled last Tuesday.
Despite all those years in the minors, he never gave up on his dream of making the NHL on a permanent basis. He always knew there was a chance that he might not ever make it, but he kept trying.
“I just always kind of knew that I was right there, but never really got the true chance to be an NHL regular, which I know that I can be,’’ Brodzinski said. “And then (I was) just kind of getting pushed back, being that ‘bubble’ guy, right there, every year… it's just like, ‘Just give me the chance.’’’
A fifth-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, he thought he was on track to finally make it in 2018, his fourth season in the organization. He’d spent the preseason on a line with Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe, and had a productive preseason. But in the final preseason game, he got hit from behind by former Ranger Michael Del Zotto and suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for seven months. The Kings didn’t re-sign him the following year.
He signed with San Jose, but spent most of the season with their AHL team. He then signed with the Rangers prior to the COVID-shortened 2021 season, and he has bounced between them and Hartford the last four seasons.
In his nine seasons, he’s played 313 games at the AHL level (126 goals, 267 points) and 105 at the NHL level (nine goals, 21 points). He was a first-line player in the AHL, but most often, when he got called up to the NHL, he’d be put on the fourth line.
“Some nights I played four minutes a game,’’ he said. “You get out there, you try not to get scored on, and then you come off the ice. And then after the game, you have a game played, with nothing to show for it. It's been a lot of that in my career.’’
But now, the puck is going in for him and his linemates. He is playing with confidence, and he is finally getting a chance.
It’s all he ever wanted.