DETROIT -- Fabian Brunnstrom is getting pretty familiar with the two-hour drive that separates Detroit and Grand Rapids, Mich.
That’s because the 26-year old Detroit Red Wings forward already has shuttled back and forth between the NHL and AHL Griffins three times in November while trying to find a regular spot with the Wings.
Tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN2), Brunnstrom will get another crack at playing in Detroit when he fills in at left wing on the third line, with center Darren Helm and Danny Cleary at right wing.
"It's going to be fun to play and I'm looking forward to the game," said Brunnstrom, who has 1 assist and a minus-2 rating in four NHL games this season. "I knew I probably picked the hardest forward lineup to break into (as a free agent), so I knew it was going to be hard. At the same time, I'm right where I want to be on this team. Now it's just taking the next step to get into the lineup (more often)."
Someone who will be watching eagerly is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who would like to see Brunnstrom tap into the skill set that made him a highly sought after free agent from Sweden in 2008.
After becoming just the third player in NHL history to record a hat trick in his NHL debut, Brunnstrom went on to have a solid first season in Dallas before seeing his production slide to the point where he played most of last season in the minors.
Now Brunnstrom has another opportunity to show what he can do in the NHL.
"If you make good on that opportunity, you keep getting it and if you don't … eventually it slips away on you," Babcock said. "He's been in the League before. Actually he was a YouTube sensation or something like that. We were all recruiting him. Now he's back and he's earned his way to play on a team -- and now he's got to find a way to play every day on the team."
It also sounds like Brunnstrom might be at a crossroads moment in his career, according to Babcock.
"He's at the stage of his life where he's got to grab hold and find a way to not just have the puck, but get it to the net and get it to the scoring areas, to be hard out there," he said of Brunnstrom. "If he does that, then he has a chance to be a real good player. The ball's in his court. I'm looking forward to watching."
Making the situation even more interesting is that Brunnstrom's wife is pregnant and could go into labor at any moment.
"I would think that it doesn't affect me, but maybe it does some anyway,” Brunnstrom said after Detroit’s morning skate on Wednesday, prior to playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night. “It’s a big thing in life, so I don’t know. I’m just trying to focus on the game when I’m here and when I go home I’ll focus on that.”
As for shuttling back and forth between Grand Rapids and Detroit so often – he’s been sent down and recalled three times each in just the month of November – Brunnstrom said he understands that it’s all just part of what he signed on for with the talent-laden Red Wings.
“It’s a tough lineup to get into (in Detroit), but it’s good to play some games (in Grand Rapids),” Brunnstrom said. “It’s a lot of miles on the car, though, driving back and forth.”