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Numbers Game: Brunnstrom to the Stars

Scott Cullen
5/8/2008 4:47:21 PM
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As TSN's Darren Dreger reported, the Dallas Stars have signed lauded Swedish prospect Fabian Brunnstrom.

In many respects, it seems as though Brunnstrom has gone from unknown (and, therefore, underrated) to overrated simply through the nature of this process.  As more and more people -- and NHL teams -- got interested, Brunnstrom's market value increased, even though he's still the same player who has yet to play in North America or for Sweden in international competition.

This International Man of Mystery is tough to project because he has such a gap in his playing history and all we have is a few frames of YouTube video along with some hearsay evidence on which to base the evaluation.  Nevertheless, I'll give it a shot, subject to amendment before the season begins.

Starting with his production in the Swedish Elite League this season, where Brunnstrom scored 37 points in 54 games, there is at least a basis for thinking he can produce some points at the NHL level.

Last year's most successful transition from the Swedish Elite League to the NHL was that of Nicklas Backstrom with the Washington Capitals.  Backstrom had 40 points in 45 games with Brynas in 2006-2007 before notching 69 points in 82 games as an NHL rookie with the Caps.  The crucial difference, of course, is that Backstrom was 19 when he last played in Sweden.

However, that enthusiasm needs to be tempered when seeing which players finished ahead of Brunnstrom in the SEL scoring race:

(Player G-A-PTS)
Tony Martensson 55-17-50-67 (2 points in 6 NHL games)
Mattias Weinhandl 54-35-27-62 (56 points in 182 NHL games)
Pavel Brendl 54-31-24-55 (22 points in 78 NHL games)
Niklas Andersson 48-12-37-49 (82 points in 165 NHL games)
Tomi Kallio 54-27-20-47 (55 points in 140 NHL games)
Jukka Voutilainen 51-26-20-46
Anders Soderberg 54-21-25-46 (9th round pick of Boston in 1996)
Fredrik Bremberg 52-11-34-45 (0 points in 8 NHL games)
Andreas Salomonsson 48-15-28-43 (14 points in 71 NHL games)
Johan Davidsson 47-9-34-43 (15 points in 83 NHL games)
Jan Hrdina 51-18-24-42 (297 points in 513 NHL games)
Riku Hahl 48-10-31-41 (13 points in 92 NHL games)
Rickard Wallin 55-17-23-40 (10 points in 19 NHL games)
Mikael Johansson 53-15-24-39
Magnus Wernblom 54-27-11-38
Pelle Prestberg 54-26-12-38
Esa Pirnes 52-15-23-38 (11 points in 57 NHL games)
Per-Age Skroder 51-21-16-37
Martin Thornberg 51-20-17-37
Mikael Lind 42-16-21-37
Lubos Bartecko 48-16-21-37 (111 points in 257 NHL games) 
Magnus Kahnberg 52-16-21-37  
Fabian Brunnstrom 54-9-28-37

That list doesn't exactly inspire confidence as it's largely comprised of players that couldn't stick in the NHL or haven't even given it a shot.  On the other hand, 23-year-old Brunnstrom is the youngest player on this list, so there is something to be said for potential.

That age difference does work against Brunnstrom to some degree, but his lack of playing experience (Dreger reported that Brunnstrom had quit hockey in his teens to work on his rock band) does make it seem likely that he would have more untapped potential than the typical 23-year-old prospect.

What kind of impact will Brunnstrom make on the Stars' lineup?

Finnish wingers Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen are both unrestricted free agents, so even if one of them signs elsewhere, that means there will at least be one opening in the top nine forwards. 

If Brunnstrom has an opportunity to play on a line with Brad Richards or Mike Modano, then there is a chance for him to put up some points but, again, the optimism needs to be tempered. 

Consider the case of current Stars winger Loui Eriksson, a 2003 second-round pick who is still younger than Brunnstrom, and put up 31 points in 69 games with the Stars this season.  Eriksson already has 71 points in 95 AHL games and had a learning season with the Stars in the NHL in 2006-2007 when he scored 19 points in 59 games.

Given Eriksson's pedigree, Brunnstrom's learning curve and the potential for Brunnstrom to play on a quality line in Dallas, I'm still keeping expectations relatively modest: 9 goals, 18 assists and 27 points.

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca


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