Justin Brazeau currently has the attention of the hockey world. The 20-year-old has gone from a late-round bantam draft pick to one of the biggest names on the undrafted free agent market.
The New Liskeard, Ontario native was taken by the North Bay Battalion with the 254th overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. Four years later, he’s now wearing the “C” for North Bay and beginning to blossom as a scorer.
Brazeau is currently firing at a goal per game pace for the Battalion. He sits three points ahead of Jason Robertson of the Kingston Frontenacs for the OHL scoring lead and 22 ahead of the second-highest point producer on North Bay.
Easily the most impressive stat is the 53 primary points Brazeau has accumulated to date – he sits second in the CHL behind only Prince Albert’s Brett Leason, who has 55, in that regard. He has also managed to find spaces in the defence to get quality scoring chances. Brazeau has the second-best amount of high-danger shots for in the OHL with 34, and while Jonathan Yantsis of the Kitchener Rangers leads the league with 44, both individuals have finished with 12 goals in those opportunities, according to Prospect-Stats.com.
Needless to say, Brazeau is making the most of his chances to score.
Some of that success has to do with his hulking 6-foot-6 frame, but can also be chalked up to the hockey sense that the winger possesses.
For me, there were three distinctive improvements made in his game. The first and most noticeable was an improvement in his playmaking ability. With his size and ability to dominate down low, this was a necessary adjustment if he wanted to take that next step as an elite player.
He now exhibits poise and vision to find open linemates when teams try to play him too aggressively in order to try to stop him coming off the wall or driving the net.
The second improvement was in his confidence. No longer a secondary scoring option, Brazeau drives the play offensively; comfortable taking charge in the offensive end and running the offense through his unique skill set.
The third improvement was in his skating. It’s certainly not the best in the league, but it’s far from the worst. His first few strides, in particular, look more explosive now and it’s really made him a load to handle for opposing defenders who lack the reach to keep him at bay.
You’d be hard pressed to find a player who was more important to his team this year (plays in all situations) and you have to be impressed with the progression each year of this unique 6’5 power winger.” – Brock Otten, OHL Prospects
Brazeau has had the past four years to play and learn the game under legendary head coach Stan Butler. After finishing the 2016-17 campaign with just 37 points in 67 games, he broke out last season, scoring 39 goals and finishing tops in scoring on North Bay with 75 points in 68 games.
Barring a catastrophic back half of the season, he is poised to shatter his current career high.
Despite being passed over twice in the NHL draft, Brazeau has now run with the opportunity to prove his naysayers wrong. Come seasons end, he’ll likely have a good portion of the NHL in a bidding war for his services.
Not too bad, Mr Brazeau, not too bad at all.