Van Brabant signing reaps positives and negatives

Bryan Lipiner

Bryce Van Brabant is about to write a new chapter in the book of Quinnipiac hockey history.

Signed by the Calgary Flames following Quinnipiac’s 4-0 loss to Providence in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Van Brabant will forego his senior year at Quinnipiac for an opportunity to play in the NHL. His contract is a two-year deal, with an average annual value of $1.35 million.

“I had to make a decision pretty quick,” Van Brabant told Flames TV after reporting to Calgary. “It’s hard, you’re with the same guys the whole year. After what we did last year, going to the Frozen Four, it was disappointing to lose in that fashion.”

Yet, as the program takes a giant step forward in terms of credibility, it will also be taking one step back by losing one of the team’s most valuable players.
Van Brabant truly came into his own in his final season at Quinnipiac. In 40 games, he found the back of the net 15 times, good for a three-way tie for third on the team. Van Brabant also scored more times his junior season than his freshman and sophomore year combined.

Last summer, Van Brabant received offers to three NHL development camps, before choosing the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. This season, he drew even more interest from NHL clubs, according to an article published in the New Haven Register earlier this year.

An Alberta native, Van Brabant is expected to appear in several games down the stretch for Calgary, with his debut coming Tuesday, according to a statement from Calgary Coach Bob Hartley on Flames TV Monday.

Last season, Eric Hartzell became the first Quinnipiac ice hockey player to dress for an NHL game. Van Brabant, however, will make history as the first alum to physically play. It will be a benchmark day for the program, similar to last year’s national championship run and Quinnipiac’s first NCAA Tournament appearance some 12 years ago.

And though the publicity will be great for the team and school, Quinnipiac’s depth will take a hit without Van Brabant next year.
A 22-point season may seem replaceable, but Van Brabant’s crushing work on the boards will surely be missed. Six-foot-three, 200-pound forwards are hard to come by, never mind one that can score on a consistent basis.

With Van Brabant out, and the Jones twins, Cory Hibbeler and Jordan Samuels-Thomas graduating, Quinnipiac will lose five of its current top-six forwards, based on line charts. Returning players and freshman will take their spots, yet the Bobcats will be without their big-bodied presence who helped lead the team to the NCAA Tournament the past two years.

The value of players like Van Brabant can’t be underestimated, especially for a physical, grinding team like Quinnipiac. They are key on both sides of the puck, and were critical to the Bobcats’ No. 3 rated defense at 2.02 goals against last season.

Two-way forwards are also important on the power play. Van Brabant was used in screen plays throughout his career at Quinnipiac, which helped propel the team to the sixth-best power play in the country this year at a success rate of 22.7 percent.

How the team will make up for his loss remains to be seen. Incoming 2014-15 recruit Landon Smith stands at 6 feet, 186 pounds, and could potentially be slotted as a top-six forward. It’s also possible players such as Tim Clifton and Tommy Schutt, both standing at least six feet and 180+ pounds., could move up on the line charts.

But for right now, Quinnipiac has a hole to fill, as Van Brabant is the first junior to leave early in recent memory. The team may adjust its style, or continue to work with the same game. Regardless, he will be missed, because players like him don’t come around too often.