Name: Bobby Brink
Team: Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Position: Right Wing
Stats: 43 games played, 35 goals, 33 assists, 68 points, 22 PIMs, +23 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 19th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: David Pastrnak
Can we talk about stats? For just a second or two? Okay cool. I’ve written a lot about them. Not because I think that statistics have the trademark on the only proper way to analyze things, but because we process information at all times, and dividing information into digestible bits helps ”loosen the belt” of too much information, which can then give us added perspective. Look at all of that information above. If you’re not a draft dork like me, all you see is a collection of numbers, abbreviations, and acronyms. 43 games. “Cool, was that a full season, or was the kid injured for half of it?” 35 goals. “That’d be great if he wore a Dallas Stars uniform, but what does that mean playing for a team named after 17th-century French swordsmen?”
I could have added his six points in the USDP, or his six points at the WJC-18. Would any of this change your novice opinion of the awesomely-named Bobby Brink? Probably not. But what if I told you that Brink had a hand in 50 percent of all of his team’s goals? Now we’re getting somewhere. What if I told you that his primary points per game was beneath only Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte (two players who will be long gone before Dallas picks)? Or that when you adjust for age, Brink is “better” than slam-dunk picks like a bunch of other kids that will be gone before Dallas drafts, like Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, and Trevor Zegras? That he scored more points-per-game than Casey Mittelstadt, yet only 38 percent of his points were on the PP compared to 60 percent for Mittelstadt? Or that his PPG for a draft-eligible player in the USHL is better than the Winnipeg Jets’ 30-goal scorer, Kyle Connor and the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau?
Here’s a silly thought experiment — and I promise I’m almost finished using this soapbox. What would a player’s point totals look like if an even-strength goal was worth more than a power play goal? Or if a power play goal was worth more than an even-strength assist? Or if an even-strength assist were worth more than a power play assist? And so forth. Evan Oppenheimer has a great breakdown of what he calls “betweenness”: a way to measure the capacity for scoring rather than operating scoring. Or as I like to call it: the Cheechoo-Thornton Principle.
Brink again measures extremely well here. Okay. Done!
I bring those numbers up, not because they encompass all you need to know, but because it’s information. And it’s better information than the information that began the article. We get just a few more clues to help us understand what Brink has done. So now let’s talk about how he does it.
Brink is, first and foremost, a dynamic offensive player. He profiles more like a shooter than a passer, but is equally adept at each. He can run through the shooter’s encyclopedia of ways to make the goaltender (and defenders) flinch. He has a quick, accurate release. He’s equally skilled at snapping the puck forward to beat a goaltender with quickness, or corralling the puck for a confident wrister to beat the goaltender with accuracy. He’s able to pause, feint, and deke — taking every extra second to position himself into a shooting advantage over the goaltender, regardless of the obstacles around him.
To do this, Brink centers his game around movement. He excels at dynamic shifting, working his edges and pivots extremely well, switching east to west with salient ease. This is crucial to what makes Brink unique. It would be one thing to move well in different directions. It’s another to move well in different directions because you’re making quick reads to either retrieve the puck or get the puck into prime scoring areas. Brink’s legs move fast during puck scrambles, and so does his brain.
When the game slows down — as it does for a power play — he’s no less effective. He’s a quick-pick passer, able to open up multiple lanes at a high pace. Brink plays a strong all-around game too. He’s a dogged forechecker, and enjoys the grit, grind, and grease of making things happen in the offensive zone.
So are there red flags? More like yellow flags, but yes. Chunking a player’s skillsets into broad categories like skating, puck-handling, shooting, character, and IQ is helpful at a glance, but the devil is in the puck scales. For example, where some players are quick in a straight line, but struggle to move laterally, Brink is the completely opposite. It’s not that weird when you think about it. In Brink’s case, he has a good first-step, and solid acceleration. But he doesn’t have a smooth stride, or great top speed. For Stars fans, it might be useful to compare Roope Hintz with Antoine Roussel. Sure, Roussel was fast, but how many strides did he need to reach top speed? How hard did he have to work to get open? How easy does Hintz make it look by comparison?
This is only one of Brink’s issues, though. He doesn’t have great puck balance. For a player who already has a slight frame (and it is — he’s officially listed at 5-foot-8, making him a non-Josh Brolin goonie), this could be a problem if he expects to maintain the edge that’s made him an excellent junior scorer. It’s also easy to see how being involved in 50 percent of your team’s scoring could work against you in some ways. There are times when Brink tries to do too much. He sometimes moves as if he’s playing all positions, looking to force the pass or the shot. For more, Will Scouch has a great breakdown of Brink’s limitations in this regard. How will this affect his game when he’s forced to simplify it?
I think this tends to be the issue with a lot of big-time junior scorers. They’ve always known what it’s like to be the trigger man. What happens when they’re not? What happens when they’re asked to simplify their game, and make the quick pass, or take the simple shot? The thing is, I don’t necessarily agree with this, philosophically. I feel like NHL coaches, in general, cling too close to the concept of selflessness and simplicity. Some players need some level of complexity, and individuality to be efficient. I don’t believe NHL coaches are wrong to punish freelancing, but I do think there’s something to letting players explore their strengths, even if it means playing their way instead of the “right” way. I believe there’s a happy medium that doesn’t sacrifice the uniformity of a strong system.
In juniors, the talent gap is so wide that talent more readily shows up on the scoresheet. So prospects are naturally given more latitude. It’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed as I do more draft analysis. You really get to see players as they are rather than who they’ve been asked to be by others. This is the transition I could see being tougher on someone like Brink than others.
However, I believe that Brink has the IQ to transition: and more importantly, the talent to make an impact with each shot, and each shift. That’s just as important as how a player projects. They do unbelievable things and critics ask “but can he do that at the NHL level?” If he couldn’t do it all, we wouldn’t have this conversation to begin with. Perhaps the better question is, “can a team properly forecast their own ability to develop a player’s talents into showing up consistently at the NHL-level?”
It helps that Brink is determined, works hard in the gym according to his strength and conditioning coach, and didn’t let a broken ankle stop him from improving his game. It also helps that all the clues are there to believe Brink will end up being far better than where he will end up being picked. And It also helps that he’s going to a strong program like the University of Denver next season where his game will be pushed to the…edge.