T.J. Brennan’s AHL statistics say he should be in the National Hockey League.
While playing with the Toronto Marlies last season, he won the Eddie Shore Award given to the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman. He led all AHL blue liners with 72 points and helped Toronto to the Western Conference finals. Brennan has continued that production since coming to Rockford as part of Nick Leddy’s trade to the Islanders – leading the IceHogs with 31 points and 116 shots on goal and ranking second with a plus-16 rating and earning an all-star nod.
“He’s played really well offensively. Leads our team in points,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said. “Logs a lot of ice time for us, plays in all situations. He’s been real good.”
He has been, yet he seems to be well down in the pecking order of young defensemen in the Hawks organization.
Already this season, Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck have appeared for the Hawks, while Stephen Johns experienced a brief call-up for cap reasons. Trevor van Riemsdyk skipped Rockford entirely and established himself in the NHL before getting injured, and 20-year-old Ville Pokka (acquired with Brennan) is considered more of a prospect.
Brennan, 25, has only played 40 NHL games and none since the 29 split between Buffalo and Florida during the 2012-13 season. And coming to a Hawks organization loaded with defensemen both at the NHL and AHL levels doesn’t figure to help his chances of adding to that total.
“You definitely go through learning experiences throughout everyone’s career,” Brennan said. “I’ve gone through a lot throughout my career so you definitely learn how to channel that frustration or … I guess people want to call it unfairness. I don’t think so. I think it’s a good problem to have. I’m lucky enough to be in a great organization.
“If I get called upon I’m going to try my best and do the best I can. If not, I’m just trying to learn as a player and take this experience and take it to whatever happens next,” he added. “It’s nothing too frustrating. It’s something that you learn along the way and you do the best you can and you control what you can.”
But Brennan’s situation can be frustrating. How can it not, especially for someone as accomplished in the AHL.
“I think it is for him a little bit, for sure. That’s something he deals with every day and we talk about it,” Dent said. “As long as he’s trying to improve his game and get better, that’s all he can control.”
The one part of Brennan’s game that needs work is his defense. His offense is obvious, but it’s his play in his own end and the risks he takes that have led to questions that have to be answered before he can spend more time in the NHL.
“I just think he sometimes has to simplify his game and not be as high-risk,” Dent said. “Obviously, the offense is there so just work on the defensive end of things and really try to be an all-around defenseman.”
Regardless, Brennan’s pushing for his next NHL chance.
“If your name gets called you want to be ready to go. It’s a great problem to have,” Brennan said. “You want to push the guys that are ahead of you and hopefully try and keep making everyone have good, healthy competition around you and keep things going.”