NEWMARKET– It is hard to miss Justin Brazeau. For starters, he is 6-foot-7, towering over people of average height.
Hockey fans in Toronto and GTA will get to witness Brazeau up close as he takes the next step of his development with the Toronto Marlies. In the Marlies final preseason game against the Rochester Americans, Brazeau’s presence was impactful. He made the right decisions with the puck. And used his size and physicality to win battles along the boards.
Being one of the youngest on the Marlies, Brazeau is not shying away from being a pivotal offensive asset for the team.
“It is a big adjustment from last year playing in the OHL,” said Brazeau commenting on his two preseason games. “You need to change parts of your game in order to jump to the next level. These two games have done that.”
Justin Brazeau Looking to Carry on OHL Success
For Justin Brazeau, conquering adversity has always been a pillar to his hockey success. In 2014, Brazeau was selected in the 13th round by the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.
The journey to professional hockey is next to impossible for those drafted in the OHL’s high rounds. Playing in the OHL, let alone have a starting role, is an abstruse reality for many late-round players. This did not hinder Brazeau’s belief and determination. Despite only having six goals and seven assists in his rookie season with the Battalion, the New Liskeard, Ontario, native worked extra hard. Fine-tuning his fundamental hockey skills so that he could become a prolific goal scorer.
Brazeau’s third year with the Battalion demonstrated that the time invested in offseason training had paid off, resulting in 75 regular-season points and five goals, two assists in the playoffs. But as an over ager, he solidified his status as a future hockey star. With 61 goals and 52 assists, Brazeau finished second in the OHL in scoring and the leader in goals.
The former 13th-round pick turned North Bay Battalion captain was a force to be reckoned with in the OHL last season, using his puck protection skills and transition into the forecheck to get into open passing lanes and create scoring opportunities.
His storybook hockey career took a big leap when Brazeau signed a two-year AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies.
“Any time a kid comes in as a 13th-round pick and accomplishes as much as he did, it’s a sign to the other players what happens when you work hard and develop,” Battalion director of hockey operations/coach Stan Butler said.
For the first time since 1991, the Marlies returned to their AHL roots in Newmarket, Ontario. In support of the Central York Girls Hockey Association, the Marlies ignited an energetic crowd at Ray Twinney Recreational Complex. This was done with their speedy, intense play.
Despite falling to Rochester 4-3, Brazeau provided the Newmarket patrons with a glimpse of his offensive prowess. In the final ten seconds of the second period, the 21-year-old redirected a point shot by Marlies defenseman Marc Hollowell, putting the puck backdoor to give the Marlies a goal.
This is the blueprint of Brazeau’s offensive game when he is in the attacking zone. At the Toronto Maple Leafs Development Camp in Traverse City, Michigan, Brazeau received a stretch pass from his teammate Hudson Elynik, beating the Chicago Blackhawks defence and goalie Nick Kossoff to score. Generating two goals at Development Camp was the highlight of a week where the Maple Leafs prospect received invaluable knowledge.
“At the camp, they focused on smaller groups and coaches doing one-on-one sessions with the players,” said Brazeau. “I am definitely trying to take one or two pieces of advice from those sessions and applying it to my game.”
The last two seasons for the Toronto Marlies have resulted in a Calder Cup championship and a Conference Final appearance. With an experienced roster, Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe is eager for Brazeau to continue to develop amidst his veteran teammates.
“Justin has put in a lot of work with our coaches and development staff since the moment he was signed,” said Keefe. “The more you see him play, the more you see his intangibles shine. There is a lot to be excited about.”
The Newmarket patrons in attendance are sure to now know who Justin Brazeau is after the Marlies final preseason game. His noticeability will only grow with success and experience, with a starting role on the Toronto Maple Leafs within reach.