Damien Brunner looks like one of the Backstreet Boys and heals sick children. Watch out, Dos Equis guy.
Brunner has never played an NHL game, so there are no advanced stats to put in this space. Instead of numbers, you're going to get words.Words, and a lot of links.
- Looking for a quick scouting report? According to eliteprospects.com, Brunner is "a slick offensive forward who can shoot as well as pass the puck. Has great wheels and hands. Plays a gritty game."
- Mike Babcock didn't shy away from praising Brunner. Seriously, we're talking Helm-like praise here [Ed. note: it's almost impossible to write a sentence with "praise" in it and not accidentally write "Parise." Please note that this was written on the third day of free agency insanity, a time in which flightaware.com has become a major player, along with a cow from Ryan Suter's farm]. It's worth reading the article for Babcock's full quote, but he mentions that he envisions Brunner being a top 6 forward for Detroit, and it sounds like he means this coming season. Babs likes Brunner's right-handed shot on the powerplay, though the signing of fellow right-hander Mikael Samuelsson may take away some of the PP time Brunner would have gotten if he made the big club.
- Ken Holland shared Mike Babcock's enthusiasm, saying that Brunner will get a chance to play with Detroit's best players and see where it goes. Though it's pure speculation at this point, the natural extension of this is for Brunner to get some preseason time on both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg's line.
- A more thorough scouting report from Red Wings Central shares some of the same sentiments I had after watching film of Brunner; great skater, good shot, intelligent shooter, and a phenomenal stickhandler at full speed.
So what's the verdict?
This could be another one of Detroit's under-the-radar acquisitions of top European talent at a bargain, even though it wasn't via the draft in this instance. The Wings' European scouting staff got the attention of Ken Holland and Mike Babcock in a year that just happened to feature a World Championship. This perfect storm of events allowed Brunner to showcase his talent against top players, in addition to allowing Holland and Babcock to get an up close and in-person look. This may be the one and only reason to be thankful for Detroit's first round exit.
In short, there's a whole lot of potential here without a whole lot of risk. According to Cap Geek, Brunner signed a one year, $925,000 deal with a cap hit of $1.35 million. Not a bad deal at all for a player who is something of a known quantity to the Wings. Though it's difficult to tell how his game will translate to a smaller rink, Brunner has competed against NHL-level competition in the World Championship and performed at a point-per-game pace. I may end up looking really stupid in a few years (thanks for archiving everything, Google) but I believe that Brunner could be the next Valtteri Filppula, and has the upside to be the next Datsyuk or Zetterberg. I see him as more of a Datsyuk or Zetterberg in terms of skill, but he needs to work on his defensive game is he wants to be more than just another top six forward.
As for this coming season, I view it as feast or famine for Brunner. Either he makes the Wings and earns a spot among the top six forwards, or he goes the traditional Grand Rapids apprenticeship route. I don't see any sense is letting him toil on the third or fourth lines, or even worse, playing sporadically or sparsely. Brunner could use time to develop and adjust to the North American game/rink, and if he's talented enough for that development to take place at the NHL level then so be it. If it needs to take place in Grand Rapids then that's okay too, though Detroit may have been more comfortable with this option if Brunner was signed to a multi-year deal.
Some of these have soundtracks comprised of hard rock that is in English, and others have soundtracks comprised of hard rock that is not in English. Listen at your own risk.
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