Who is Ben Brinkman?
Ben Brinkman is a first-year draft-eligible defenseman (born October 4, 2000) from Edina, MN who came up through the Minnesota high school hockey ranks. Brinkman is somewhat unique for an NHL draft prospect though, in that he actually already has a year of college under his belt. Brinkman was a long time youth hockey standout and actually committed to the University of Minnesota hockey program way back in 2015, when he was just a high school freshman. Brinkman ended up graduating high school a year early and went straight to Minnesota, forgoing his senior year to play hockey at the college level. Brinkman was actually the youngest player in NCAA men’s college hockey last season, which is impressive in its own right, but he also played a pretty significant role for Minnesota despite that age.
Brinkman may have been very young compared to most of his college hockey peers, but he didn’t really lack for size because of it. He’s listed at 6’-1” and 210 lbs. on the Minnesota Gophers website, making him plenty big, especially for an 18-year-old. Brinkman is a left shot and appeared in all 38 games for Minnesota this season. Minnesota had an okay season, but failed to make the NCAA tournament for the second-straight year. Brinkman ended the season with Minnesota with the team’s highest +/- rating by a fair, for what it’s worth. Obvious grain of salt as ever with +/- but at the very least, it would seem to indicate he was holding his own as a 18-year-old freshman on an otherwise breakeven team. Brinkman’s offensive game is something that didn’t quite show out in his freshman year, as he finished with just one goal and seven points in his 38 appearances. He put up only 15 shots on goal for the entire year, which is comfortably less than a half a shot per game. The weak offensive numbers are a bit surprising for a blue liner who put up 40 points in 25 games from the blue line as a high school junior, but it will be something Brinkman surely looks to improve in his second year at Minnesota. His full stats rundown from Elite Prospects is below.
As far as Brinkman’s game, he is an intriguing prospect, in that he seems to have some skill and ability to move the puck from the blue line to go along with a strong physical game. Even as the youngest player in the college ranks, Brinkman reportedly had no issues mixing it up with his older peers and really held his own well on the Minnesota blue line. It seems it was a bit of a disappointing season for Brinkman though, in spite of a decent showing for his age. His expectations coming into the season were, understandably, sky high with him skipping his senior year of high school (where he was dominant) to jump to a top college program. Just to give a few examples of the expectations heading into 2018-19, both Steve Kournianos at the Sporting News and the folks over at HockeyProspect.com saw Ben Brinkman as a potential first-rounder coming into the season. A solid, yet unspectacular showing in his freshman season at Minnesota, along with very meager offensive output, cooled those expectations considerably. Still, Brinkman has some good things going for him and figures to potentially be a guy worth taking a flyer on in the later rounds.
Where is Brinkman Ranked?
As I mentioned, Brinkman came into the season with high expectations and was showing up on top-31 lists in the summer of 2018. A year later, some rankings have him on the fringes of even being drafted at all, with the consensus probably putting him perhaps somewhere in the fifth or sixth-round range. Probably not what Brinkman was hoping for when he made that early leap to college, but a year holding ones own in college is probably just as valuable to scouts as another year obliterating the high school ranks anyway.
- NHL Central Scouting: #115 (NA Skaters)
- Future Considerations: #241
- McKeen’s: #186
- Elite Prospects: #65
- The Draft Analyst (Kournianos): #147 (April)
What Others are Saying About Ben Brinkman
The profiles on Brinkman are somewhat limited based on where he has landed in the rankings, but there is enough info available to piece together the kind of prospect he is and form something of an opinion on him. We’ll start with our friends over at SBN College Hockey, who recently profiled Brinkman:
Minnesota listed Brinkman at 6-1 210 lbs., which seems slightly exaggerated by my eye test, but regardless, he’s a strong, solidly-built kid that is going to have no problem holding up physically against anyone in the NHL.
As a late-2000 birthdate, Brinkman was the youngest player in men’s college hockey this season. And while he was by no means a dominant force, he more than held his own against competition that was, in some cases, as much as five or six years older than him.
I tend to take a more optimisitc view of Brinkman than the general consensus. Yes, he’s never going to be a 60-70 point guy like Erik Karlsson. But not every NHL defenseman is going to be that, nor do they necessarily need to be. There’s considerable room between that and ‘effective NHL defenseman’ and I believe Brinkman will one day fall into that range, though closer to a 5th/6th defenseman than a top pairing guy. I think he has the athletic upside to be a dependable, physically imposing defense-first defenseman at the pro level.
I think their conclusion on Brinkman generally jibes with what is out there, and given how highly-touted he was when he left high school, and the way that he held his own in college, I think a team taking him will be hoping that he can improve that offensive game this next season and possibly project to a ceiling of a solid middle-pairing guy.
Next I just want to hit on a quote from his coach Bob Motzko midway through the season that reflected how he thought Brinkman was coming along.
Bob Motzko on draft-eligible D Ben Brinkman who graduated HS early to join Minnesota: “He is not nervous at all. He is just steady, strong as a bull and he’s getting more comfortable. The D aren’t thinking as much, they’re just keeping it simple. It was great to see him rewarded”— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) November 24, 2018
That he is seen as such a steady, strong presence at such a young age in the college game by his coach is encouraging. If he can get a bit more involved at both ends while continuing to bolster his physical game, he seems like he could certainly be effective at the next level.
Steve Kournianos, who, as mentioned, had big expectations for Brinkman heading into this season, had this to say about the defender in the summer of 2018 at the Sporting News:
College-bound puck rusher who accelerated his high school education in order to be eligible to play next season for the University of Minnesota. Brinkman is big, strong and mobile, but he also is an on-ice leader that loves to take chances when his team needs a boost.
Big, strong, and mobile is a good combo, and while his offense wasn’t there in 2018-19, most evaluations of his game still tend to like his strength and his mobility. He may still need to put it all together to some extent, but the tools are there to take his game to the next level going forward in college.
The publicly available profiles are a bit sparse on Brinkman, likely because of his somewhat lackluster offensive production and just generally where he’s showing up in rankings. He does have a good writeup in the HockeyProspects Black Book, which you’ll have to buy to read, but they did like his steady, physical play and felt his decision making was good and improved as the year went on. They also noted that he basically got no power play time, which at least helps explain the offensive output (or lack thereof).
A Little Video
This video, which is split between Brinkman and USDP prospect Alex Vlasic, shows some of Brinkman’s game. It’s certainly not a pulse-pounding video, but Brinkman seems to move decently well and makes good decisions when he has the puck.
An Opinion of Sorts
When getting into the late rounds of the draft, it’s all lottery tickets on some level, but identifying players who may be undervalued for one reason or another is how you maximize your return. Normally, a player with Ben Brinkman’s output on offense would cause me to dismiss him and I think that has a lot to do with his slide in the rankings. There are definitely major mitigating factors in Brinkman’s case, though, most of them related to him being the youngest player in college hockey. With a bit more confidence, maturity, and maybe some power play time, Brinkman seems like a candidate to break out in his sophomore season on the national NCAA stage. His lack of a dynamic presence in his jump to college gives me enough pause to not want the Devils to be reaching for Brinkman earlier in the draft, but if they spent a late-rounder on him, I think he’s a worthwhile project, given his steady freshman season and how good he was before his jump to college.
What are your thoughts on Ben Brinkman as a prospect? Would you take a chance on him in the late rounds of the draft? Are you impressed with his early jump to the NCAA? Underwhelmed by his offensive output as a freshman? Both? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.