Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Writer
Jan 16, 2007, 4:14 PM EST
St John’s defenseman T.J. Brennan is certainly sitting pretty for someone who has taken up the game relatively late in life.
Despite not playing competitive ice hockey for the first time until he was 10-years-old, Brennan finds himself as one of the most talked about young defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In fact, the 17-year-old, who hails from Willingboro, N.J., is ranked No. 59 in NHL Central Scouting’s recently released mid-term rankings. He is the second-highest rated defenseman in the "Q", a few spots behind Lewiston’s Kevin Marshall.
While it is unusual to see such a late starter prosper at the elite levels of the game, it is just as unusual to see a New Jersey boy with a year of elite-level hockey under his belt arrive in Newfoundland to play Major Canadian Junior A hockey.
Last season, Brennan was playing for the Philadelphia Little Flyers in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, hoping to maybe, just maybe, play college hockey in a couple years.
That all changed this past summer when former NHLer Stephane Charbonneau, a coach with the Little Flyers Major Midget team and the general manager of Aston IceWorks, opened Brennan’s eyes to a whole new world.
Charbonneau, who enjoyed a two-game cup of coffee with the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques during the 1991-92 season, saw something more in the 6-foot, 200-pound defenseman. Charbonneau convinced Brennan to join the all-star team he was coaching in a local summer junior hockey tournament and then he contacted a few scouts with QMJHL ties and convinced them to come down and take a look at the prospect he had uncovered.
"He’s got something special, that kid," says Charbonneau, who played four years of junior hockey in the "Q" himself, winning three playoff championships. "I played pro hockey, I played in the NHL and I'll tell you not many people have a shot like him. He has a NHL wrist shot. The release is so quick and his shot is just unreal."
The QMJHL scouts agreed and St. John’s invited him to a tryout at this fall’s training camp. Brennan, somewhat shocked by the out-of-left field invite, was at a loss about what to do as the deadline for his decision approached.
He discussed all his options with his family, and, in the end, St. John’s won out.
"We were thinking, take this chance because how many times in a lifetime do you get a chance like this to play in one of the best junior leagues in the world, so why not take it?" Brennan explained. "We made the decision to come up here because there was more publicity for what I wanted to do, which is go for the NHL. So far, it's going pretty good."
Good? Some would say great. In 43 games with the Fog Devils, he has three goals and 15 assists. His 18 points are the third-best total among the league’s rookie defensemen.
Charbonneau is not surprised by Brennan’s early success.
"T.J. had it in his mind to play in that league and I explained to him that it's not suitable for all American players," he said. "It’s all offense up there, so I think it is a perfect fit for T.J.
”That kid is very focused. He just wants to play hockey. Because he played Double-A hockey most of his life, he isn't content. He just wants to get better every day."
While Brennan knows his offense has gotten him noticed, his defense must be improved if he wants to bolster his stock heading into this June’s draft. He sits at minus-5 right now.
"I definitely have improved a lot on my defensive play, my angling and my skating, improving my stride and getting a lot stronger," Brennan said. "I’ve become a lot better player in just the few months I’ve played here. You better make an improvement or you are going look silly out here. I haven’t really gotten undressed out there yet -- knock on wood. I don’t want it to happen. I know everyone has the capability and the skill to do it, so I better get better pretty quick."