For the Edmonton, Alta.-born, North Vancouver, B.C.-raised Gilbert Brule, his road to sticking in the NHL has been a bit of an arduous one.
He’s played with three NHL teams – Columbus, Edmonton and, most recently, Phoenix – and three AHL teams – Syracuse, Springfield and Oklahoma City – but a full-time gig has yet to truly come to fruition.
But when you look back on where he’s come from, his latest olive branch in the form of Phoenix picking him up on waivers, may be exactly what he needs to become what many people assumed he would be.
When Brule, alongside Brock Bradford, was named a co-winner of Hockey Now’s 2002 Minor Hockey Player Achievement Award, to many it seemed like the 15-year-old prospect was well on his way to becoming a star at hockey’s highest levels.
Shortly after being handed the award in the spring of 2002, the North Shore Winter Club playing Brule was selected first overall in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Vancouver Giants and, after a year with the BCHL’s Quesnel Millionaires where he collected 32 goals and 25 assists in 48 games, he joined the Giants and instantly became a hit.
In his first two full seasons he totaled 64 goals and 83 assists in 137 regular season games and at times was being touted as a running mate with Rimouski’s Sidney Crosby for the top pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.
During the lead-up to the 2005 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, it was Brule’s face, alongside Crosby’s, that emblazoned the promotional posters.
It seemed he was set for greatness.
He had been to all the tournaments as a kid.
He was named MVP of the 1997 Brick International Super Novice Hockey Tournament in which his Pacific Vipers won. He twice attended the Quebec International Peewee Tournament. He won the 2001 Peewee AAA B.C. Provincial Championships. He was a first team all-star at the 2002 Bantam AAA tournament in St. Albert. And on and on the accolades went.
Then in Junior hockey, with the Giants, he was the WHL Rookie of the Year in 2003/04 and in 2006 helped his team to a WHL championship and a third place showing at the Memorial Cup.
The pieces were falling into place.
But since being selected sixth overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, it’s been an up and down seven years.
In his first year with Columbus, he first suffered a fractured sternum and then a broken leg and after coming back from his second injury of the season, having only played seven games with the Blue Jackets, he was returned to the Giants for one more stint at the junior level. And he pretty much proved himself too good for the league.
Playoff included, he had 68 points in 45 games en route to the WHL title.
After that season, his pro career became full-time, albeit not quite the way he would have wanted.
Following two seasons with the Blue Jackets, accompanied by a 16-game demotion to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in the latter part of the second season, Brule was traded to Edmonton.
Looking for a fresh start, he got it. Well, sort of.
His first year with the Oilers franchise, 2008/09, saw him play 38 games with Springfield of the AHL and just 11 with the big club.
The following year, Brule finally started to show flashes of what could be, earning 37 points in 65 games. However, once again, his NHL success was fleeting and by 2011/12 he was back on the farm, now with Oklahoma City.
But just recently, Brule’s NHL career his been rejuvenated. After Edmonton called him up on re-entry waivers, Brule was snatched off the wires by the Phoenix Coyotes. And now, once again, he has an opportunity.
“It’s a new city, a fresh start,” Brule told reporters shortly after discovering the news about Phoenix. “But I had been looking forward to playing (in Edmonton) and getting another chance.
“I didn’t know if I was going to even get called up this year because of the re-entry waivers but there’s still half a season to play so I do have a chance to make the most of this opportunity.”
And that’s maybe all Brule needs. At 25-years-old, he still has plenty of time to prove himself in the NHL.
After all, when he’s as skilled as he is – reread the article if you’re not convinced – there’s no reason he can’t flourish with the best.
BRADFORD EXCELS THROUGH NCAA ROUTE
When Brule and Bradford, who were born just six days apart in 1987, (Brule on Jan. 1 and Bradford on Jan. 7) were selected as co-winners of Hockey Now’s 2002 Minor Hockey Player Achievement Award, they were very much highly touted 15-year-old prospects who had already enjoyed more than their share of on-ice success and were well on their way to bright hockey careers.
The only difference at the time seemed to be the rival teams they played for: Bradford wore the yellow and black of Burnaby Winter Club and Brule wore the red and white of the North Shore Winter Club.
But after winning the award, their routes to success went in different directions. While Brule decided to go the route of the WHL and the Vancouver Giants, Bradford chose to go the U.S. college route.
After two years with the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL, followed by a year with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, Bradford ended up on a scholarship to Boston College for the next four years where he was part of an Eagles team that won the NCAA Div. 1 National Championship in 2008.
He finished his college career with 53 goals and 57 assists in 126 games and in 2010 was named an ESPN All-American as he graduated with a BS in Accounting and a Masters in Business all the while possessing a 3.97 GPA.
Since then, Bradford played 54 games in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2009-10, collecting nine goals and 11 assists. That same season he played six games with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers, registering five assists.
In 2005, after his season with the Lancers Bradford was drafted by the Boston Bruins 217th overall but never played a game in the NHL.
Internationally, Bradford played for Team Pacific, winning a silver medal, at the 2004 U-17 World Hockey Challenge and Team Canada at the 2005 World U-18 Championship, also winning silver.
From December 2011 to July 2012, Hockey Now features past recipients of our Minor Hockey Player Achievement Award, leading up to the announcement of our next winner, in July.Back to Top
1) Mom Mondays: The pain of getting cut – does it hurt you more?
2) Not like the pros: Minor hockey about fun and fundamentals experts say
3) Robson signs with Clarkson
4) The art of roster building in junior hockey
5) Former pro lacrosse player Matt Carroll getting set for first season as Panthers bench boss