HARTFORD, Conn. – Improving his game isn’t the only task for Brennan Othmann in his first year as a professional hockey player.
He is also working on his culinary skills.
“I cook,” the 20-year-old striker said with a broad smile when asked about his living situation. “They’re just simple meals, but they taste amazing. My mom has helped me a bit on the phone – breakfast, lunch, dinner – so it’s going pretty well so far.
It’s all part of adjusting to life in the American Hockey League for one of the Rangers’ top prospectswho is now 15 games into his rookie season with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
He quickly realizes that we are far from a more pampered existence at junior level.
“Living alone definitely takes an adjustment,” Othmann said. “When you are a junior, you come into a (host) family with whom you live. You have your meals and laundry prepared. You have conversations with family and you have siblings (guests) and pets and everything. Now you’re just back to four empty walls. Sometimes it can be nice. Sometimes you can feel alone.
Getting rid of “junior habits”
Despite the new environment and lifestyle, Othmann seemed comfortable during Monday’s practice at the XL Center.
Not only was he skating on Hartford’s top line, but the Rangers’ 2021 first-round pick was frequently spotted chatting with his veteran teammates looking for advice. He also seemed to be having fun, laughing and taking playful jabs between exercises.
“I try to have a smile on my face every day,” said Othmann, whose missing front tooth was in full view.
Hartford interim head coach Steve Smith took notice.
“I see someone who is determined,” he said. “I see someone who wants to learn. I see someone who has all the qualities to be a good player.”
Othmann also impressed the Rangers coaching staff, leading Peter Laviolette to keep him until the end of training camp.
The logical development plan has always been to let him get comfortable with the Wolf Pack, rather than rushing him unnecessarily to the NHL. But reaching the final selection round indicates the 6-foot, 186-pound winger, who won the world junior and OHL championships, isn’t that far away.
To prove he’s ready to take that final step, Othmann believes he needs to “get rid of my junior habits and play with more pace.”
He provided some examples of what he means by “junior habits.”
“It’s just little things that people don’t see, like stick positioning,” he said. “Another thing is what we call here ‘good deposits,’ which are about puck placement. It’s little details like that that management and staff here see that a lot of viewers and outsiders don’t can’t see.”
As for adapting to the speed of professional play, Othmann said: “I needed a few matches to catch up.” But you wouldn’t have known it watching his first AHL game.
The Scarborough, Ontario native scored twice in Hartford’s shootout win over the Providence Bruins, including the tying goal with 2:41 left in regulation.
“You couldn’t describe it better than that,” he said with another big smile.
However, not everything went smoothly. These memorable beginnings were followed by a dose of humility.
Othmann has yet to score since, over a span of 14 games that included the first six minutes and use of the No. 1 power play unit. It’s not for lack of effort, with his 48 shots on goal leading the Wolf Pack. But he only converts those chances at a rate of 4.17%.
“Obviously, as a goalscorer and a guy who has scored a lot of goals in the past, it gets frustrating sometimes,” he said. “But the positive way to look at it is that I’m still doing my looks. I think I have four or five shots every game. I have maybe the worst shooting percentage of the league right now, but you have to look like it’s going to change soon. So, I’m not too worried.”
Rely on veterinarians
Despite the drought, Othmann managed to contribute seven assists, including one in each of the last two games.
The organization shares its confidence that the goals will come — “He can shoot the puck,” Smith said — by focusing on the other side of the ice early on. Othmann’s minus-5 rating is the worst on the team, with defense being an area he will need to tighten up to earn a call-up to the NHL.
It will take time to figure out how to defend effectively at the higher levels, and that’s why he’s in the AHL to begin with. But Smith was encouraged by his commitment, saying: “He showed he was more than willing to learn the defensive side of the game.”
This has been a frequent topic of conversation between Othmann and the more experienced players on Hartford’s roster. He was recently moved to a line with Riley Nash, 34, and Alex Belzile, 32, with Smith noting that he tried to mix all the young prospects with the veterans to encourage that kind of dialogue.
“We try to put them with guys who can help them learn,” the coach said. “When they get off the ice, they can talk between shifts and go back. I think it’s been really healthy for all of them.”
Othmann thanked Nash, Belzile and Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski for offering his advice while noting a particularly strong bond with Nash.
“He has played over 1,000 professional matches now and he has a mindset for the game,” he said. “He’s been doing it for a long time now and I have a lot of respect for him. He’s kind of taken me under his wing over the last month. He’s an exceptional guy who has been an exceptional mentor and leader for Me.”
These tips include specific game situations, but extend to “preparation, recoveries, training (and) how to manage your body,” according to Othmann. It even includes occasional cooking tips, although his go-to source remains his mother, Lisa.
It’s all set to make for an informative start to your professional career, with the main message being to keep a positive attitude and trust the development process.
“You can’t go from mountain to mountain without crossing a valley,” Othmann said. “So going through a little bit of a dry spell here is good for my career. It’s good for the mind, I think. There may be some ups and downs for the mind, but it’s good that I’m coping this now, with all the older guys in the locker room helping me along the way.”