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  • Justin Brazeau’s storybook debut gives Bruins a needed boost

    Tim Rosenthal February 19, 2024

    Every player encounters a unique path to the National Hockey League. While some share similar journeys as top prospects or late bloomers, others face obstacles, detours, and other hurdles on their way to the top league in the world.

    In Justin Brazeau’s case, he wondered if he’d even touch the ice for one NHL shift.

    After spending his first six seasons between the East Coast and American Hockey Leagues, the 26-year-old winger finally received that long-awaited promotion ahead of Boston’s tilt with the Dallas Stars on Monday afternoon.

    “It’s honestly been hard,” Brazeau said. “I spent a lot of time playing pro hockey until I got here. But now, obviously, it all worked out, so it feels pretty good right now.”


    The undrafted free agent began his professional career at the ECHL during the 2019-20 season. After two seasons in the Maple Leafs organization, jumping back and forth between minor league affiliates in Toronto and Newfoundland, Brazeau began the next phase of his career with the Bruins’ farm system.

    Brazeau’s trek between the ECHL and AHL continued in 2021-22, spending 18 games with Maine and 67 in Providence. The following season, Brazeau secured a full-time role in Providence for the 2022-23 campaign.

    Entering his late 20’s, his chances of earning a chance at the NHL continued to decrease. Yet, Brazeau continued fine-tuning his physical and scoring traits along the net-front to work his way up the Baby B’s lineup.

    The Bruins took notice of Brazeau’s development after he graduated from the ECHL and signed two separate one-year AHL deals in 2022-23 and 2023-24. Brazeau continued to wait patiently for his first NHL deal amid a career offensive season with Providence.

    Amid one of the worst slumps of their centennial campaign, Don Sweeney and the front office searched for internal sparkplug options. On Sunday, the cap-strapped Bruins placed Oskar Steen on waivers and signed Brazeau to his first NHL deal; a two-year, two-way contract with an annual NHL cap hit of $775,000.

    “I love it,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said ahead of Brazeau’s NHL debut. “Someone who started out on the East Coast [Hockey League] and fought his way to an American League deal, and now he’s earned [an opportunity] all the way up [at the NHL]. It’s a great story.”

    On Monday, Brazeau wrote the first chapter of his NHL story.

    The early returns provided encouraging signs on another day where the Bruins hardly had their ‘A’ game.

    “Someone all year who has made his linemates better,” Montgomery said of Brazeau’s season in Providence. “He’s a puck possession guy; he’s heavy down low. So he fits what we’re kind of looking for to add to the bottom six, so it’s an opportunity for him. He’s been a great player in the American League, and we want to see if it translates to the NHL.”

    Brazeau, who notched 18 goals and 37 points in 49 games this year in Providence, gave Boston’s struggling fourth line a needed shot in the arm. Through his speed, size and will, Brazeau more than complimented his linemates, Jesper Boqvist and Anthony Richard, in one of their better performances of late.

    Richard and Boqvist connected early in the first to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. In the second, Brazeau took center stage shortly after Ryan Suter found twine past a screened Jeremy Swayman to give the Stars their first lead of the afternoon.

    On the ensuing shift of Suter’s second goal of the year, an assertive Brazeau went to the front of the net after Boqvist won a puck battle along the walls. Boqvist promptly skated behind Jake Oettinger’s net and quickly found Brazeau in a prime scoring area to finish off his first career NHL tally.


    “I kind of blacked out, honestly,” Brazeau said of his reaction to scoring in his NHL debut. “Richie [Richard] asked me where it went, and I honestly had no idea. I just shot it and heard the crowd go crazy.”

    Brazeau remained effective as the Bruins searched for a second gear against the Central Division-leading Stars. He nearly converted on a couple of other high-danger scoring chances as Boston somehow remained in striking distance during the final frame.

    With Swayman pulled for the extra attacker, David Pastrnak secured a needed tying marker late in regulation. The Bruins persevered through a shaky five-minute stretch in the 3-on-3 overtime before stealing the 4-3 win during a shootout marathon.

    “I’ve gotten to know him ever since he signed with us, and I got to golf with him in the summers,” Swayman said of Brazeau just moments after denying former teammate Craig Smith with a last-ditch save in the tenth round of the proverbial skills competition.

    “It’s no surprise that he’s had success everywhere he’s gone. We’re just thrilled for him to come in and score a huge goal like that. He’s an incredible human off the ice who works hard, and he gets results on the ice. He uses his body well to get time and space and create good shooting opportunities. So I’m really happy for him.”

    Brazeau could’ve walked away from chasing his dream. Instead, he remained committed to his craft through blood, sweat and tears.

    With the trade deadline looming, whether Brazeau remains in the bottom-six picture in Boston is anyone’s guess. But through his work ethic amid many rejections, Brazeau silenced whatever critics he encountered through his NHL journey just by overcoming numerous setbacks en route to his NHL debut.

    In front of the biggest crowd he’s played in front of, Brazeau made an immediate impact as his dream became a reality.

    “I just think it’s a great story for anyone who tells you can’t do something, or that you’re not tall enough or you’re not smart enough,” Montgomery said. “Whatever the case is, no one can tell you what you believe inside you. And give credit to the young man because I think he has a lot of intestinal fortitude.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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