Bobby Brink is leaping through NHL prospect rankings with an outstanding offensive season at the University of Denver. He currently leads the NCAA with 44 points in 28 games during the 2021-22 season for the third-ranked Pioneers. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect has one year of NCAA eligibility remaining in 2022-23, but his impressive development is leading many to believe that he will opt to join the professional ranks after Denver’s season ends.
Brink’s Potential as an NHL Star
The Flyers drafted Brink with the 34th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. They traded the 45th and 65th overall picks to the Nashville Predators to get into position to select him. His production at the junior level in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and experience with the US National Development Program landed him in most projections as a first-round pick. Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers coined him as the “steal of the 2019 NHL Draft” after he slid into the early second round.
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The 5-foot-9 right-winger shined for Team USA during their gold medal trek at the 2021 World Junior Championships with six points in seven games. During a 7-0 blowout win against the Czech Republic, he teamed up with 2021 second-overall pick Matty Beniers and Anaheim Ducks rookie phenom Trevor Zegras to start the offensive onslaught. He scored two goals, both on loose pucks right at the goalmouth, legitimizing his reputation as a hard-nosed skater with a high compete level.
Bill Meltzer talked about Brink’s potential on the Stick 2 Hockey podcast last week. He likened the 20-year-old to Flyers right-winger Cam Atkinson. “He’s really small, but he doesn’t play small,” Meltzer pointed out in reference to his scrappy style in front of the opposing goal crease. He also pointed to the consistent hustle and hockey sense in the comparison to Atkinson.
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Meltzer continued to laud Brink by calling him a “smaller (Flyers forward Claude) Giroux” because of his ability to make crafty plays. The long-time captain has never been one of the best skaters in the NHL, but he has compensated for it in other areas of the game. The comparison to a franchise legend sets a high standard for a prospect who Meltzer expects to turn pro after the NCAA season ends in April.
Brink at the University of Denver
Brink entered the draft with an intriguing offensive skill set, impressive hockey sense, and play-making ability. He has developed his skill set in three seasons with the Pioneers. He notched 35 points in 43 games during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons despite injury issues. His prolific 2021-22 campaign has improved the perception of talent evaluators inside and outside the Flyers organization. The Athletic ranked Brink as the fourth-best prospect in the Flyers system in 2021. He jumped Morgan Frost and Egor Zamula to earn the second spot behind Cam York in the updated version of the rankings in January (from The Athletic, Wheeler’s 2022 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 13 Philadelphia Flyers, 1/29/22).
During his career at Denver, he has built on his reputation as an aggressive winger who is willing to play hard in the crease area. He has shown the ability to execute creative moves and passing plays that could help him develop a skill set of a top-six forward in the NHL. He has also shown flashes of dangerous shooting ability from the top of the circles and from the point area, especially on the power play.
Denver won their third NCAA National Championship of the 21st century in 2016-17 after back-to-back titles in 2003-04 and 2004-05. They expect to compete with the nation’s top college programs every year. After receiving votes to become the top-ranked team in the latest NCAA poll, they hope Brink can help them to a berth in the Frozen Four at TD Garden in Boston in April.
Fletcher, Flyers in Need of Talent
General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher spoke last week about the “land of opportunity” for the development of young talent as the silver lining to the disastrous 2021-22 season in Philadelphia. He mentioned Brink within a group of upcoming prospects like Ronnie Attard, Noah Cates, Ivan Fedotov, and Elliot Desnoyers who are “more than ready to start their professional experience with the Flyers in the near future. It’s likely that some will play during the remainder of the regular season.
In November, Fletcher attributed a lack of appropriate personnel as the crux of the issues on the Flyers’ futile power-play unit. Two months later, he candidly identified a lack of shooters on the roster and emphasized the need to acquire “top-end” NHL talent if the franchise hopes to contend in the coming seasons. If the Flyers lose Giroux before the trade deadline, they will be left without their most skilled offensive player and their best power-play shooter.
“There’s no question. The most successful power plays in the league are teams that shoot the puck well from the flank.”-Chuck Fletcher
Brink possesses the traits that Fletcher wants on the roster. Of the five prospects the GM mentioned, he has the highest potential upside to become the type of “top-end” talent the Flyers need. His potential as a young player who fits the needs of a struggling team could fast-track his path to the NHL. The Flyers will not be in contention for a playoff spot after the NCAA season ends. At that point, Brink would have the opportunity to sign and play immediately before the 2021-22 NHL season ends, similar to how Jackson Cates did in his four-game stint late in 2020-21. If the scenario materializes, Brink will get an opportunity to step in and showcase his ability with a strong impression ahead of the 2022-23 season.