( Photo Credit: Tessa McAndrews / Providence Bruins )

By: Mark Allred | Follow me on Twitter / X @BlackAndGold277

Providence Bruins forward Justin Brazeau is at a pivotal point in his professional hockey career as the 6′-5″, 220-pound Ontario, Canada native is set to be a free agent this coming offseason. The rugged right-winger has spent nearly three seasons with the top minor-pro affiliate of the Boston Bruins and has been a solid net-front presence player, improving each year. So far this season with Providence, the big man has 8-8-16 numbers in 24 games played and is currently on a five-game point streak, which is a season-high.

From Brazeau’s days playing junior hockey with the North Bay Battalion, where he posted 61-52-113 numbers in 68 games in his final OHL season, to his rise through the minor-pro ranks, he has consistently demonstrated a knack for scoring those dirty goals and a physical style of play that sets him apart. His size and skill set make him a formidable presence on the ice, especially around the opponent’s crease. Brazeau has 43-54-97 career numbers in 164 American Hockey League games, and with Providence has posted 39-53-92 in 142 games, and he seems to be getting better year by year.

Many see the 6′-5″ 220-pound numbers and gravitate toward a player who can be an enforcer at the NHL level, but that’s just not Brazeau’s game. Justin makes an opposing team pay with solid board battles, and he’s a rock in those dirty areas. Braz is a physical specimen, but he uses that physicality to create havoc in front of the other team’s net. Brazeau is an intelligent player on the ice with exceptional hand-eye coordination. He skates hard to the net and plants his big body right in front of the opposing goaltender, setting a screen but also looking for a scoring opportunity by deflecting an incoming shot or being that big body and positioning himself using leverage for a scoring chance via rebound.

Below is a quote from Providence Bruins Head Coach Ryan Mougenel via a BostonBruins.com website article by Jordan Conn on December 5th, 2023, with an evaluation of Brazeau’s game.

“You saw it this weekend, how hard and strong Braz is on pucks,” said Mougenel. “His ability to get inside the paint and play in tight and tough areas separates him from most players. He’s a unique player; he has size, strength, and intelligence around the net.”

The knock on Brazeau making the NHL has and forever will be his foot speed and keeping pace at the highest level of competitive hockey in the world. Justin went unselected in his entry draft-eligible years but has worked his ass off in the minor-pro levels to get where he’s now. Braz is currently on a one-year, AHL-Only contract, which means with 48 games remaining in this 2023-24 AHL regular season up to July 1st, 2023, the Boston Bruins have exclusive rights before he walks to free agency.

Brazeau has adapted to Providence Bruins Head Coach Ryan Mougenel’s line combinations and is a fit anywhere on the right side from the top line down to fourth. His play for the past two seasons in Providence has seen the big man earn time on the top two offensive lines, often working with Boston Bruins prospect and center Georgii Merkulov.

This season, the Providence first-line trio of Boqvist, Merkulov, and Brazeau has been Providence’s best offensive line this year after a troubling season start. Before Boqvist was recalled to Boston for the upcoming two-game road trip, that trio combined produced 21 points in the last five games to help the NHL Bruins affiliate win seven straight games going into Hershey tonight to face the Bears, the Washington Capital’s top minor-pro affiliate.

Currently, the Boston Bruins have 47 of 50 maximum contracts signed, so I highly doubt a contract gets done this season, keeping Brazeau in Providence for the remainder of this 2023-24 regular season. However, I can see both sides getting a two-way contract done next summer to keep Justin around for further evaluations while adding to the forward depth with a player with some grit and willingness to get to those hard-to-play areas.

This coming offseason, departures are bound to happen from all levels of the Boston Bruins organization. The available number of allowable contracts per NHL team will be more plentiful for players like Brazeau, who are keeping the NHL dream alive. Of course, Justin could look elsewhere in free agency if he doesn’t see a path to the NHL, at least with Boston.

Braz already has familiarity with the B’s organization and might be willing to stick around to sign a two-year deal to continue to be one of the club’s leaders and nurture the next minor-pro generation player. As for a yearly player salary for a forward like Justin Brazeau, I could see a two-year, cap-friendly deal worth $775,000 per season.

Justin also worked hard to get where he is today, playing in Providence. After leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and becoming a free agent, Brazeau started the 2021-22 regular season in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners. With the Boston Bruins “AA” minor-pro affiliate in Portland, Maine, Justin posted 10-10-20 numbers in 18 games and was called up to AHL Providence, where he’s never looked back.

Folks will criticize this idea, claiming these contracts should be given to players with a higher NHL upside, but in my opinion, you can never have enough depth. While Brazeau will likely never net a 30-goal season at the AHL or the NHL level, it doesn’t mean a player of his determination, size, and skill set cannot make meaningful impacts that make hockey organizations successful.

This wouldn’t be the first time an AHL-only contracted player earned his way to stay involved at some level in the B’s organization. It also wouldn’t shock me to see a player like Braz continue to work his way to the NHL, either in Boston or elsewhere in the league at some time or another.

As mentioned, the Providence Bruins are in action tonight at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to finish the current three-game road trip. The 2023 Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears lead the whole AHL with a 19-6-0-0 record and 38 points. Hershey has a 10-3-0-0 record at home and 8-2-0-0 in their last ten games. Hershey lost their previous game at the Giant Center on Sunday, December 10th, 2023, to the hands of the visiting Charlotte Checkers by the score of 3-1 in front of 9,558 Bears faithful.

On the other hand, Providence goes into tonight’s road action in Hershey on a seven-game winning streak, as the NHL Bruins affiliate has been playing much better as of late, climbing the Atlantic Division. The B’s currently sit in the Atlantic’s third position in the Atlantic with a 13-8-1-2 and nine points behind division-leading Hershey.

Providence has a road record of 8-5-0-0 and 7-3-0-0 in their last ten games. Providence returns to the Amica Mutual Pavilion for two games this weekend. On Friday night, December 15th, 2023, the Toronto Marlies will visit the state of Rhode Island, and the final match of the weekend will be on Sunday afternoon at the AMP when the Syracuse Crunch visits the Ocean State.