( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow me on Twitter @BlackAndGold277

The Providence Bruins are having an exciting season in the American Hockey League. A big part of that success can be attributed to players like Justin Brazeau, who has been playing well this year. In his second campaign with the team, Brazeau is making the most of this year, and it’s showing as he looks to impress the Boston and Providence organizations for future services. The 6′-5″ 220-pound right-winger is in his last year of a one-year extension, and he’s having a career season with the National Hockey League Boston Bruins top minor-pro affiliate.

Brazeau, a 25-year-old Ontario, Canada native, went undrafted in his years of eligibility but became predominantly known after his 2018-19 Ontario Hockey League overage season with the North Bay Battalion. The then 19-year-old led the OHL in goals with 61 and came in second place in points with 113. The following year the big power forward signed a two-year AHL-Only deal as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first year with the Maple Leaf’s organization, Brazeau was sent to the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers, where he appeared in 57 games, posting 27-28-55 numbers. In his second season in the Leaf’s organization with their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, Brazeau only appeared in 21 games, contributing 4-1-5 numbers before his 2020-21 season succumbed to an injury.

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Last season Brazeau started the 2021-22 season signed as an AHL-Only contract reporting to the NHL Bruins “AA” minor-pro affiliate Maine Mariners who were in year one of an affiliation agreement between the NHL club and ECHL team. Starting the season in Portland, Maine, Brazeau posted 10-10-20 numbers in 18 games, getting a call-up to Providence, where he remained with the AHL club for the remaining 51 games, contributing 15-16-31 totals. In the Spring of 2019, the Boston Bruins were heavily interested in signing him as a free agent, but he turned down so many NHL offers to take a chance with his longtime favorite Maple Leafs.

This season has been no exception for Brazeau’s performance, as he’s posted 14-18-32 numbers in 46 games and is in sole possession of third place in team scoring. As a third-year AHL’er, Justin’s leadership has also been crucial for a young Providence squad that relies heavily on their core players like him, who provide stability and the net-front-presence within the lineup. This experience has provided many opportunities for Brazeau and younger players to learn and, at the same time, develop essential skills.

An analysis of Justin’s performances this year reveals that his ability to find open ice and his offensive creativity make him stand out from other players at this level. He moves well for a big-bodied winger, meaning he can create time and space while being able to capitalize on chances when they arise. His ability and success around the crease causing havoc to the opposing netminders has been successful this season and an attribute he continues to work hard on.

Brazeau uses his big frame to get set for incoming shots via deflections or off a rebound directed back out front at the top of the crease. Justin has three power-play goals and is also credited with three game-winners. For a big player and how physical he gets in scrums after crashing the net, it’s honestly amazing to see he only has six penalty minutes as a rugged forward.

His standout performances this season has positively impacted the Providence Bruin’s overall success since mid-October 2022 when they started this year’s campaign on the top of the AHL Atlantic Division. Providence continues to be at the higher echelon of the Atlantic with a regular season record of 30-10-8-2, good enough for 70 points, with the Hershey Bears, who are in second place behind by one point with 69.

Justin Brazeau’s impressive form so far makes it safe to say that the Providence Bruins are more than fortunate enough to count on him going forward with 22 games remaining in the 2022-23 season. This significant net-front presence will be a key asset from Brazeau and others as Providence aims to secure a postseason birth in the upcoming Calder Cup Playoffs.

In conclusion, Justin Brazeau is proving once again why teams should never overlook undervalued forwards like him, who, despite going undrafted, still manage to consistently show why they belong in hockey’s best developmental league. Efforts like this every single night through hard work, commitment, and effort day after day soon will lead to parent clubs management and scouting staff to get a big picture from within the organization long term to see where a player like Brazeau could fit in as the team is always looking for that high rangy winger that’s been successful for so many years.

With this being a contract year for Justin, if he continues to grind it out, putting his body in the line of fire for this Providence organization, I believe the NHL Bruins will come quickly with a two-way NHL contract. Signing a player like this shows appreciation for helping the top minor-pro affiliate succeed and gives Boston more time to see if a player like Brazeau has what it takes at the NHL level. If Justin wants to stick around and grind it out with Providence for another year, I believe he would be a solid fourth-line player as roster space becomes more available after the 2023-24 season.

Below are quotes from an interview I had with Providence Bruins Head Coach Ryan Mougenel when I asked him how important Justin Brazeau has been to this year’s team. These quotes from Mougenel’s post-game press conference came after a 3-2 loss at the Amica Mutual Pavilion in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, after the game against the visiting Springfield Thunderbirds.

“He’s a big identity piece for us. Braz is actually one of our more physical guys, not in the fact that he gives a lot of body contact, but he takes a lot of contact and protects pucks.”

“He extends offensive zone time. He’s got a great set of mitts, and he’s got tons of courage. We celebrate what he’s really good at. Some of the things he’s got to get better at that probably put him in the conversation at the next level; he’s working on for sure.” Mougenel later added that Joona Koppanen and Jakub Lauko were recalled to the NHL after playing alongside a player like Brazeau, “That’s a compliment to the player when a lot of the guys around you have success, and then he’s playing with (Merkulov) and all of a sudden Merk catches on fire.”