In a business where assets are mined and managed like the most precious stones, landing a solid NHLer without surrendering a player or a draft pick is akin to finding an walnut-sized diamond at the bottom of your morning coffee.
And when it’s a young, skilled Swedish forward with loads of potential like Fabian Brunnstrom, well, it’s safe to say the Canucks aren’t complaining about a little grit in the morning joe.
With Thursday’s signing of 23-year-old Brunnstrom, the Canucks added what most hockey experts consider a blue chip offensive talent, without spending so much as a seventh-round draft pick.
“It’s very important if you can sign a freebie or a free agent without compensation,” said Canucks amateur scout Thomas Gradin. “Otherwise you’re giving up draft picks and risking part of your future, especially if you’re getting players that are drafted late like Kevin Bieksa
. There are some golden corns coming out of those rounds.”
Had Brunnstrom garnered so much as a wink from the NHL back in 2003, he might be one of those golden corns. As it happened, he wasn’t even rated by most scouts and was cut by a local tier two team before landing a role with Jonstorps in Division 1 Swedish hockey in 2005-06. From there he moved to Division 1’s Boras for one season, with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League giving him a chance this year.
He’s now teasing scouts with a rare combination of size, speed and puck handling that’s drawn comparisons to the Alex Kovalevs of the world.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News compared him to Daniel Alfreddson – another Swede who was passed over by most, but developed into a NHL star.
Sounds like quite the signing for the Canucks.
“He’s got great puck control, he’s a great skater and he has size,” said Canucks professional scout Lars Lindgren. “How would I compare him? He’s a mix between Pyatt and Morrison.”
So how did this now highly touted 6-foot-2, 200-pound left winger get overlooked by so many NHL teams?
“It's tough to see how that could happen when you see him now,” said Lindgren. “There are a lot of Swedish teams that would like to have him.
“I think Fabian decided a few years ago that he wanted to be a great hockey player and he worked extremely hard at it. And he's got such great hockey sense and a lot of potential. It's tough to say why people didn't recognize him earlier.”
It really doesn’t matter why he wasn’t drafted, only that he found his way to Vancouver anyways. The potential for this Swede to become a sniper in the NHL is sky-high and his numbers back that up.
Last season Brunnstrom recorded 37 goals and 36 assists in only 41 games for Boras in Sweden’s second-tier league, and this year he’s once again displayed his impressive skills with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, as he finished second in scoring with 37 points in 54 games. Brunnstrom’s stellar play in 2007-08 was recognized by the league as he was nominated for rookie of the year.
“He didn't play much on the power play with Farjestad and he still put up points,” said Lindgren. “They just didn’t know what to expect from him and thought he was going to take some time to learn, but he impressed me and a lot of other people.
“Some people develop differently. Some are at the top of their career when they are 16, some are at the top of their career when they’re 30 and there are people in between there that make judgments on those guys and it’s too harsh sometimes. This guy is a good player.”
This February TSN.ca reported that as many as 20 teams were looking to sign Brunnstrom, who they deemed “one of the most coveted young players not in the NHL.”
“He’s a late bloomer who stepped up his play in the Swedish Elite League,” explained TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie. “The kid is talented. The fact that he fell through the cracks and wasn't drafted makes him that much more attractive.”
His late development was what kept many teams from signing the forward, who’s eligible to play in the NHL next season, but the Canucks are impressed with the player he’s evolved into. That spurred general Dave Nonis to make a few trips to Sweden to woo the young forward.
“I know a lot of teams asked about him from talking to his agent, but I think Dave made a very good impression on him, talking about the team and the organization and the city,” said Lindgren. “And our Swedish players helped out a bit, some of them spoke to him.”