Philip Broberg is showing his promise: Will NHL opportunity come with the Oilers or elsewhere?
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It doesn’t even take a couple of minutes to figure out which player looks the most like an NHLer when watching Bakersfield Condors practice.
The smooth skating. The composure with the puck. The lanky but chiselled physique. Philip Broberg has all the makings of an impactful defenceman at the big-league level — and it’s becoming more apparent by the day.
“You see that consistent maturity and being stronger, being calmer, being more poised,” Condors coach Colin Chaulk said.
Broberg is excelling in the AHL, sometimes pushing 30 minutes on the ice, while playing next to veteran Ben Gleason.
He’s running the power play, which has gone from one of the worst units in the AHL to one of the best. He’s penalty killing. He’s doing it all with aplomb.
“Playing every day and being in the lineup all the time helps your confidence,” Broberg said. “I’ve grown my game as well. You play a lot of minutes, and you play PK and power play, you start to develop some parts that maybe needs some adjustments.”
Broberg is in his fifth season since being drafted eighth by the Edmonton Oilers in 2019. After staying in Sweden for the first two post-draft years, this is the third campaign where he’s spent significant time in Bakersfield.
If he hasn’t proven he’s too good for the minors, he’s getting close to that point. Yet, whether due to lack of a roster spot or failing to grasp hold of one when it’s available, he hasn’t been able to break through with the Oilers.
At 22, Broberg should have more room to grow before he reaches his ceiling and with lots of years left to reach his potential. At the same time, it’s hard to be patient.
“That’s not young in his mind because he’s been at it five years,” Oilers assistant coach Paul Coffey said.
With the March 8 deadline less than a month away, Broberg is the subject of trade rumours and has appeared on trade boards from league insiders. Including him in a deal could help the Oilers land a missing piece for a championship-calibre team.
If he’s a big trade chip that could be in play, Ken Holland — the man who used his first draft pick on Broberg as Oilers GM nearly five years ago — thinks otherwise.
“No. I don’t see it,” Holland said. “It’s hard to find 6-foot-4 young defencemen.
“We’re trying to win. We’re making decisions to win. But behind the scenes in Bakersfield, good things are happening.”
Broberg’s name is out there as a possible trade candidate beyond the obvious reasons that he’s a very good prospect who’s blocked from a contending NHL team because there are six blueliners ahead of him.
It was reported on Dec. 5 that Broberg was seeking a trade from the Oilers. He’d been recalled from Bakersfield on Nov. 15 after Dylan Holloway sustained a long-term injury but was then scratched in six of the next eight games.
Broberg spoke with Coffey after that. Coffey — who once demanded a trade from the Oilers in his playing days, albeit over money — understood where Broberg was coming from.
“I’m OK with you standing up for yourself,” Coffey told him. “You’ve got to bet on yourself.”
The Oilers sent Broberg, who’s in the last year of his entry-level contract, back to Bakersfield on Dec. 7 to get him playing regularly.
“What everyone is seeing is they’ve got themselves a player,” Chaulk said. “I think the reason why they moved him down here is they were unsure based on what they had seen.”
Broberg has flourished with the Condors, recording a goal and 17 points in 25 games since that December demotion.
He said he’s moved on from what happened two months ago.
“I love Edmonton. I want to play in the NHL. Right now, I don’t try to think about that. It’s out of my control,” Broberg said. “I just want to focus on the day to day here in Bakersfield and try to get better and work on my game and hopefully get back up in Edmonton.”
That’s what Holland wants to hear. Holland has always had a steadfast belief in this player and has never wavered in thinking Broberg has top-four potential.
Holland feels Broberg is NHL-ready now. It’s just that the Oilers have six healthy blueliners, who’ve been essential to the team’s recent 16-game winning streak and would require waivers to be sent down.
Broberg is clearly the No. 7 guy and Holland sees no value in having him in the press box. It’s why lesser prospects Gleason and Phil Kemp were recalled instead when the Oilers required a seventh defenceman on the roster.
“When I was the manager in Detroit, we had a lot of frustrated players in (AHL) Grand Rapids,” Holland said. “When you have a good team, you’re going to have that because they all think they can play in the NHL. That’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing.
“The good news for Philip Broberg is going to have to be on waivers after this year for the rest of his career.”
There are so many what-ifs when it comes to Broberg and his lot in life with the Oilers. He could be so much further along if one or more of a few scenarios went more advantageously.
Firstly, the acquisition of Mattias Ekholm — a move no one is questioning — pushed Broberg down the depth chart. It’s something Ekholm, a fellow Swede and mentor to Broberg, notes unprompted.
“Maybe me coming in here slowed that down for him a little bit as well,” Ekholm said. “Hopefully, I can be part of getting him on the right track and getting him back to playing. Then, he’ll never look back from there.”
Secondly, the hip flexor/groin injury that kept Ekholm out of training camp was a huge detriment to Broberg.
Assistant coach Mark Stuart travelled to Stockholm last summer to show Broberg clips of him playing on the right side to prepare him for the upcoming assignment of being paired with Ekholm.
All it took was an 8-1 shellacking in Vancouver in the season opener — a game in which Ekholm didn’t play — for Ekholm to be reunited with partner Evan Bouchard.
“We didn’t start the season as we wanted. That takes a toll on your confidence,” Broberg said. “When you don’t stack up the wins, it hurts the confidence.
“We finished the season really well at the end of last year. When you start to try new things, it’s very easy to go back to what works. At that point, I was the odd man out.”
Which brings us to the third point: Broberg played his last seven games for the Oilers as the seventh defenceman in an 11/7 scheme.
Sometimes he’d get just a few shifts. Sometimes, he played the left side. Other times, he played the right. All that did him no favours.
“As a coach — whether it’s me or Manse (Dave Manson) or Jimmy Playfair before — you’re the lowest hanging fruit and it’s hard to get you ice time,” Coffey said.
“That’s really hard,” Ekholm added. “You know when you get in there, you’re excited. But if you make a mistake, you’re probably out the next game.”
With the role comes little hope of showcasing the talent commensurate with a top-10 pick.
Ice time with top offensive players is all but non-existent. The expectation is just not to mess up.
Ekholm said he wrestled with that dilemma early in his NHL career. He pushed the envelope in Nashville midway through his rookie season to try to catch his coaches’ attention.
He wound up going from a sometimes scratch to a top-four pairing with Ryan Ellis, although the Predators weren’t as good as the Oilers are now.
“After a while, you’re thinking, ‘Well, this is not sustainable. This is just going to make me a six/seven (defenceman) and eventually I’ll be out of the league,” Ekholm said.
“There got to be a point where I’ve got to turn my mindset and say, ‘Screw it. If I sit next game, I sit next game. It’s not a big deal.’ At least I played my game. I played it the way I think the game should be played. Usually, good things happen when you do that.”
Broberg has been playing more like himself in the AHL — and doing so solely on the left side. (He will stay on the right side to finish a shift to support the fellow lefty Gleason.)
That was the organizational directive to the Condors coaching staff because, as Holland said, “As a young defenceman in the National Hockey League, it’s easier to play your strong side.”
Though Broberg has mentioned in the past how he likes right defence — he played there in Sweden — he notes that shift has made things simpler for him.
“When it comes to angles and seeing the ice, it helps when you’re on the left side. When you’re on the right side as a left D-man, it’s a little bit different,” Broberg said. “You have to adjust your game a little bit. You’re more confident and comfortable on the left side.”
It’s all working out for the best.
Ekholm is getting progress reports about Broberg and is pleased with what he’s heard.
“I’ve said it from Day 1 since I saw him in practice and play, I think it’s just a matter of time before he figures it out,” Ekholm said. “He’s got every attribute that a top-four — or even top-two — defenceman in this league needs.”
“My confidence is high. I try always to keep it high and believe in myself,” Broberg said. “I want to be a difference-maker.”
The way Chaulk sees it, Broberg needs to continue impacting games positively and his time will come.
For now, Broberg is determined to keep honing his craft as he collects Marriott points while living in the hotel located beside the Condors arena. All he can do is try to keep improving and hope his big break comes. He’ll miss the Condors’ next two games after suffering an injury on Saturday but isn’t expected to be out of the lineup longer than that.
“You can look back at this one day and it can all seem funny,” Coffey said. “All of a sudden, something happens, and he gets up here and it becomes a 15-year career, and this is all a learning experience for him.”
That very well might be true.
It just remains to be seen if that happens in Edmonton or somewhere else.
(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)