Just 48 hours after lifting the NCAA championship enthusiastically over his head, Bobby Brink has signed his first NHL deal and will be lacing up for the Philadelphia Flyers when they visit the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
This exciting whirlwind of events — as Brink himself described it when he faced the media for the first time after Monday’s practice — has all led him to one moment and it is clearly a monumental occasion for the player and the team.
But enough about them and prospects and playing hockey games, Brink is quickly getting recognized as some sort of player and while leading all of college hockey in scoring certainly helps that, it’s the ones that have experienced his game up-close that can attest to his skill and abilities.
“He’s just a smart player,” defenseman Cam York said Monday. “You see him off the ice and you don’t think he’s super powerful or anything like that, and then he gets on the ice, he’s just a really smooth skater, silky with the puck and makes good plays all over the ice.”
York and Brink are familiar enough with each other to tell what sets either of them apart. Just last year, they were able to come together from powerhouse collegiate programs in Denver and Michigan, and earn a gold medal for the U.S. at the 2021 World Juniors.
But what about the man that will be deciding where Brink plays in the lineup and in what situations? What does he think about the 20-year-old newbie?
“Hockey sense, competitiveness and obviously skill to go along with that,” Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo said after Brink’s first practice with the team on Monday. “Those have been the things that seem to get mentioned right off the bat when anybody’s talking about him and the game that he brings.
“You draft a player like that and you know about his skill level and that’s why you draft him at a high position. One of my first memories was watching him at the world juniors and I remember him on the penalty kill blocking shots, sort of doing whatever he could to help the team win. Obviously a character kid. Some kids, they might not get that power play opportunity that they’re normally used to, but for him, he was willing to take any role and shine in it. That’s a good quality to have.”
It is fairly unique for a player that has his shoot-first skillset and hyper-offensive ability, to end up being an all-situations player. Whether or not that sticks in the NHL is still to be seen, but at least Yeo recognizes the potential within Brink’s offense and immediately thrust him on to the Flyers’ decrepit top power play unit.
There is, obviously the big elephant in the room (okay maybe tiny elephant) of the rookie’s size. Standing at 5-foot-9 — that is the height that is registered and we all know how that reflects to real life — Brink is second only to Cam Atkinson for shortest player on the roster. But the coach knows of player with a similar stature that overcame everything and is still one of the best blueliners in the league: Minnesota Wild’s Jared Spurgeon.
“Not the same type of player, he’s obviously a defenseman, but he was a guy that was almost basically written off because of his size,” Yeo said. “He’s a perfect example of a guy who knows that basically the odds are against him. Because of that, he makes sure that he’s prepared to play every single day, takes advantage of every opportunity and plays the game so well with his head. ... For smaller players, you have to be able to think the game and you have to be competitive. From what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen so far, [Brink] seems to have those two qualities.”
We all collectively fell in love with Gerald Mayhew earlier this season because he just looked like he tried on the ice. So if Brink is anywhere close to that in his competitive nature and work ethic, and if he can actually do other successful hockey things like passing and shooting, then it will be a fun ride.
Philadelphia has 10 games remaining and with nothing to play for, they might as well throw him out there with the other kids and see what they can do and get a sense for next season. There might be a new little core of youngsters building up in orange and black.