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NHL: BELL – The Emergence of Brock Faber

Minnesota Wild defenseman Brock Faber (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

Heading into the 2023-24 season, it was known that Brock Faber would step into a significant role with the Minnesota Wild. But I don’t believe anyone was expecting the performance we’ve seen so far from the young defenseman.

Faber has locked down a top-pairing role for the Wild while fitting in as a key quarterback on the first power-play unit and the first penalty-killing group. He’s up to 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in 28 games, which is 14th among all rookies. His assist total is good for fifth among all rookies. What really stands out is that he currently sits 8th among all defensemen in the league in average time on ice at even-strength (20:36) and 24th in overall average time on ice (23:59).

Perhaps this should have been expected of the young prospect. After all, he’s been raising his stock steadily since being drafted 45th overall back in 2020. He moved from the US National U18 Team to the University of Minnesota in 2020-21. He spent three seasons there, ultimately captaining the team and being named the B1G Defensive Player of the Year twice. He also played for Team USA twice at the World Juniors, captaining the team in the second appearance and winning gold in the first. He also dressed for the USA for the 2022 Olympics.

So, maybe Faber’s current success has been in the makings all along - a natural development progression. Yet for many players, it takes time to get accustomed to the speed and strength needed at the NHL level. Faber? He’s excelled.

What adds to the impressive start is how he’s been leaned on to cover missing pieces of the Wild’s blue line. Jared Spurgeon missed the first 13 games of the season. Alex Goligoski missed 12 at the start of the year. Now, Spurgeon is back on the shelf and Jonas Brodin, Faber’s main partner this season, is out week-to-week. This will be a true test of how the 21-year-old is settling into his role, but the early indicators are that he’s embracing the additional responsibility. In his first two games without Brodin, he played 30:08, followed by a 31:34 performance (both games requiring extra time). If anything, time away with Brodin will shine a light on just how important he is on this back end.

What is it about Faber that has led him to eating minutes and earning the trust of head coach John Hynes in crucial moments of the game? It starts with the rookie’s awareness and intelligence on the ice.

In this clip, keep an eye on Faber’s head (No. 7). With the Edmonton Oilers pressing, Faber’s constantly scanning the ice. He knows where everyone is at every moment, and it allows him to adjust his positioning and be ready for anything. When he finally gets possession, he makes a simple pass to help his team break out.

Speaking of breakouts, watching Faber lead his team out of his zone is something that Wild fans should get very used to. Here, what really stands out is Faber’s puck protection, his patience, and that awareness that we talked about. Faber uses his body and his reach to hold the puck away before cutting back to create separation. Ultimately, the attacker loses his stick and while it would be easy for Faber just to move the puck to his defensive partner, he takes advantage of the opportunity, scans the ice, uses the space in front of him, and creates an offensive chance for his team in the process.

These long stretch passes are commonplace for the d-man, who shows off his vision regularly. He makes veteran passes with ease, connecting with his teammates across two lines and springing his forwards for offensive chances. Plays like this just exude intelligence.

It doesn’t need to be a long pass for Faber though. In his own end with pressure on, he shows off a calmness typically seen in long-time veterans. On the penalty kill, Faber jumps on the rebound and takes the puck behind the net and out of danger. With two men on, it would be easy just to fire this puck around the boards, but the young defender knows where everyone is on the ice and sends a quick bank pass to his teammate for the clear.

Faber’s overall defensive ability has really stood out this season and this next clip shows that from a few different scenarios. Starting off, Faber does a great job of keeping the attacker to the outside and getting his stick in the lane. The Nashville Predators’ forward has no way to the slot and nowhere to pass to thanks to Faber sticking with him and pushing him below the goal line. He then sticks with the attacker and gets a stick on the pass, potentially taking away a scoring chance.

That's not all in this clip though. At the 15-second mark, there’s a bit of a miscommunication between Faber and teammate Fredrick Gaudreau. Faber takes the man, leaving the puck behind but Gaudreau doesn’t scoop the puck up and offensive pressure is maintained. But, then at the 25-second mark, Faber doesn’t make that mistake again, taking his man out along the boards, separating him completely from the puck. At 29 seconds, Faber knocks the puck away to his teammate for the breakout. This clip shows his man-on-man coverage, his strength, his awareness, and his ability to disrupt plays.

But it’s not just in his defensive game that Faber has impressed with this season. His activations have been on point, and he regularly looks to jump up into the rush as a fourth attacker or to help his team gain the zone. Here, we see just that while Faber shows off his explosiveness as he quickly reads the play and jumps into the rush, builds speed, and ultimately gains the zone with possession, pushing the defence back as he drops the puck for his teammate. This is going to happen more and more as Faber continues to grow and gain confidence.

In the offensive end, Faber has been just as calm, cool, and collected. He’s manning the blue line and driving the offense through him, helping his team to move the opponents out of position and create chances. While he’s more known as a defensive specialist, Faber has very much looked more like a two-way presence this season, as we can see here. He guards the line so well, distributing the puck and maintaining pressure.

Faber’s season has been practically unheard of for a defender with his skillset and for a defender drafted outside of the first round. The Wild have a promising young defender who could be regarded as one of the league’s top rearguards in the next few years. He came in expected to play a large role but has exceeded all expectations so far this season.

He’s very much entered the Calder Trophy conversation, although it will likely take a large drop in play from young phenom Connor Bedard for Faber to win the award. However, something’s telling me this won’t be the only season we’re talking about Faber being in the mix for NHL honours.