Brodziak biggest surprise on hot Wild

Residents of the State of Hockey continue to be amazed that their Minnesota Wild have the best record in the NHL. Many are also surprised at who leads the team in goal scoring.

The correct answer is a third-line center better known for his blue-collar work ethic and strong defensive play, Kyle Brodziak.

He had two goals in Saturday’s win in Phoenix to bump his season total to 10, just six shy of his career high set last season.

So, would Brodziak now consider himself a goal scorer?

"No, I wouldn’t go that far,” he said with a slight laugh after the game. “It feels good to help contribute, but that’s just a product of what we’re doing. I think the way everybody’s playing it just makes it easier for all of us. It’s fun hockey to play.”

Then again, Brodziak isn’t expected to be a leading scorer-type player. He’s far more of a complete player.

First-year coach Mike Yeo couldn’t be more enthused about the versatility and effort that Brodziak brings to the roster. The 27-year-old can play center or wing on any line — often against the other team’s top scoring unit. He also is effective on the forecheck and a strong possessor of the puck in the offensive zone.

Besides those attributes, Brodziak has also proven useful on the power play and penalty kill.

Yeo said much of Brodziak’s success comes from within.

“Because of the way he plays the game — his attention to detail, his commitment to the system — he comes back to the bench and every shift he feels good. He’s just confident and goes out there his next shift. And that’s what happens. You kind of build momentum within your own game, and he’s been doing that."

“It’s fun to see him go out there and battle hard, that’s what he’s doing every night,” said goaltender Niklas Backstrom. “In the locker room I think everyone really appreciates the way he plays. He plays a lot of minutes; he plays every situation out there. It’s fun to see him score some goals.”

It’s a good time for Brodziak, a one-time seventh-round draft pick, to be having a potential career year. He’s in the final year of a contract that pays $1.3 million annually, a number sure to increase if he keeps up his pace.

“He’s scoring key goals, but his game hasn’t shifted one bit,” Yeo said. “His defensive commitment hasn’t wavered one single bit. He’s still the same guy that’s going out there shift after shift focused on shutting down the other team, focused on getting into the offensive zone and being a guy that’s real hard to play against.”

Just as Brodziak continues to surprise individually, the Wild has to be the surprise of the league. Entering Tuesday’s contest in Winnipeg, Minnesota has won 17 of 21, including a franchise-best seven straight road wins.

"For sure it’s a really good start, but it’s only 30 games and that’s nothing,” Backstrom said. “We all want to try and improve and see where the limit is for us."

“I think there’s a lot of belief now that we’re for real and there’s a reason that we feel that way,” Brodziak said. “It’s because of the way we come to the rink and the way that we prepare and the process of getting better every day. We’re not where we want to be yet.”

Like Brodziak, it’s been different players stepping up at opportune times for Minnesota, which has dressed an NHL-leading 32 different players this season.

Last week, Matt Hackett was called up from Houston after Backstrom was dinged up, and went on to be named the league’s second star of the week. In his NHL debut last Tuesday, Hackett took over for an injured Harding in San Jose and stopped all 34 shots he faced. Two nights later he stopped 44 shots in Los Angeles, and, in the process, established an NHL record for the longest shutout streak to start a career at 102 minutes, 48 seconds.

“The first night he was just flying off the seat of his pants,” said Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason. “The start against Los Angeles, he knew he might play, so he had a little time to think about it. He came out and didn’t miss a beat. He looked controlled, ready and sharp. He wasn’t surprised by anything.”

Northwest Division notes:

Calgary, which has won three straight and six of eight, plays 11 of its next 13 on the road starting Tuesday in Nashville. After that, 26 of the Flames’ final 40 games are at home. … Jarome Iginla, the league’s First Star of the Week, has five goals and 11 points in his last seven games. … Calgary has taken eight straight, 15 of 16 and 17 of 19 from Edmonton, including a 3-0 win Saturday. … Highly touted rookie LW Gabriel Landeskog has one goal for Colorado since Oct. 22. … Paul Stastny was expected to rejoin the Avalanche lineup Tuesday. He’d been out since injuring his torso Dec. 4. … Colorado has just one win in 10 games against division foes. … Edmonton D Andy Sutton has been suspended eight games for a leaping hit to the head of Carolina’s Alexei Ponikarovsky last week. Sutton, who has seven previous fines or suspensions in his 13-yaer career, was suspended for five games earlier this year for a hit on Landeskog. … The Oilers have allowed 10 power-play goals in the past eight games. … C Sam Gagner has three goals in three games for Edmonton after an 18-game drought. … Starting Thursday in Phoenix, Edmonton is on the road for nine of 11 games. … Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck was expected to return Tuesday after missing two games with a charley horse. The plan is to put him on the team’s top line with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu. … Koivu has scored in three straight games and has points in 11 of 12 (6-10-16). … The Canucks are starting to roll. Vancouver has won nine of 10 and 10 of 12, including four in a row. G Roberto Luongo started all four and had a .940 save percentage. … Vancouver F David Booth is expected to miss four to six weeks after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Colorado’s Kevin Porter last week. Porter received a four-game suspension from the league.