In a move that was a little unexpected but much deserved, the Toronto Maple Leafs have called up defenceman TJ Brennan from the Toronto Marlies. Unlike recent the recent call-ups for Petter Granberg and Andrew MacWilliam, this is not labeled as an emergency roster move.
Yeah, He’s Back
For some, this news came as a shock for a very different reason; they forgot that TJ Brennan was back in the organization. Brennan was traded to the Leafs from the Chicago Blackhawks on February 26th for winger Spencer Abbott. The move was the talk of twitter for several minutes, before the news that David Clarkson was heading to Columbus shook up society on the whole and briefly created world peace.
Brennan has had an interesting year. After the Leafs walked away from him, he signed with the New York Islanders, and thought that he had a chance to make a team that appeared to be a perfect fit for him. However, with what seemed like hours before the season was to start, the Islanders traded him to the Blackhawks as a piece in the Nick Leddy deal.
Shortly thereafter, the Hawks put Brennan on waivers and played him with the Rockford IceHogs. While he wasn’t producing at the same rate as he was with the Marlies, he still put up a very respectable 36 points in 54 games with Rockford, good for the team scoring lead and putting him near the top of the AHL in points by defencemen once again.
Something that has me curious is Brennan’s waiver status. Seeing as he cleared with Chicago at the start of the year, the Collective Bargaining Agreement implies that he would be able to come up for 30 days or 10 games without having to clear waivers again. I’m not sure, however, if that resets after the trade. If it doesn’t, it gives Brennan an opportunity to spend extended time with the Leafs while retaining the ability to send him back to the Marlies if they do pull off their playoff push.
What Can He Contribute?
Brennan has proven himself to be an elite offensive defenceman at the AHL level over the past few years, putting up 157 points in 180 games between 2012/13 and the trade that brought him back to Toronto. His best year was undoubtedly last season, where he scored 25 goals and added 47 assists in 76 games, and followed that up with 14 points in 14 playoff games. For all of this, Brennan was named the AHL’s Defenceman of the Year.
While he has been criticized for the odd defensive gaffe, as many offensive defencemen are, Brennan’s ability to keep the puck as far away from the defensive zone is what sets him apart. Not only does he produce points, he also takes shots at an elite level; at one point last year, Brennan had taken 12.3% of the Marlies’ shots. In short, the team’s offensive game was built around him in the way that the Leafs build theirs around Phil Kessel, and as such, he brought an underdog team to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
With the Leafs essentially down to three defencemen and three rotating heaps of cardboard, it’s a good time to see what he can do. Expect Brennan to get a ton of powerplay time and to play with somebody who can also move the puck; I’d really love to see him paired up with Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner. Brennan spent most of last year playing with Kevin Marshall and a lot of his games since returning have been with Andrew MacWilliam, neither of which are offensively flattering linemates.
The Eyeball Test
No, we’re not literally going to talk about the eyeball test here. What I’m actually referring to is the fact that for the first time, TJ Brennan gets to show off what he can do for the Leafs organization as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There will be no more “what if?” arguments to be had. The Leafs will finally be able to see how he contributes at the NHL level in the organization, and finally decide once and for all if he’s somebody they want on the big club in the long term.
If it doesn’t work out for him, it may be his last real shot at the NHL. But he’s got a lot going for him, and is the type of guy you really want to see this work out for. We’ll see what he does with the opportunity.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com