Hakan Loob knew it all along.
The Farsjestad GM was speaking about one of his players who had, thanks to a change in drafting rules, found himself pursued by at least 15 NHL teams.
The player’s name was Fabian Brunnstrom.
“I think he’s got a good future ahead of him but if he is thrown into the NHL too soon, he might not do anything, “said Loob.
How right he was.
When the Dallas Stars landed Brunnstrom, they gave him two games in the press box. In his first start he was put on the wing with Brad Richards as his centre.
Brunnstrom became the third NHL player to score a hat trick in his first game.
He would score 17 goals in his 55-game rookie season but his game went into a freefall. Last season he scored just two goals in 44 games and no one looked up when he was waived and sent to the Stars’ affiliate.
Brunnstrom certainly comes cheap. The player sent to Dallas, Mikhail Stefanovich had been loaned to Minsk in the KHL. They can’t send you much further than that.
The Leafs are bound not to make the same mistake that so worried Loob. Brunnstrom will report to the Marlies whose list of injured forwards includes the team’s leading prospect. Nazem Kadri
has a hip pointer and will probably be out for a week or so.
Right now, Brunnstrom’s career seems an overhyped failure. A classic late bloomer, he would not have garnered anywhere near the attention without changes to the rules for overseas players. When Europeans were subject to the same protections as North Americans, teams looked to get under the wire with players who had not been drafted. Under those conditions, Brunnstrom went from an interesting player to a coveted one. Fifteen teams, including the Leafs, Canucks and Red Wings were in the hunt.
But how highly you are regarded does not change how good you are or what you need to succeed. Brunnstrom has a high skill level. He is an excellent skater and, as his first night indicated, capable of scoring in the NHL…just not every night.
The Leafs, of course, are mindful of the pressures and adjustments that come with European players in the NHL. A free agent comparable to Brunnstrom, German Marcel Mueller
took until Christmas to orientate himself to his new environment and he is making steady progress. Goalie Jonas Gustavsson
meanwhile, has so far been up and down.
Not many NHL general managers don’t remember the Ottawa Senators coup in landing Daniel Alfredsson 133rd in 1994. Nor is the career path of Markus Naslund easy to forget.
Naslund had six goals in 85 games for Pittsburgh and was traded to Vancouver for Alex Stojanov. He would score 365 goals with Vancouver and ignite an interest in talented but unfathomable Swedes that burns to this day.
It’s a no-lose scenario for the Leafs. Brunnstrom’s contract ends in the spring and if the tough love of the minors continues to help (he had a solid 11 goals in 37 games for Texas) GM Brian Burke is faced with another off-season decision.
Yes, the Leafs are playing marvelously but this acquisition is separate from all that. When you are in the bottom sixth in the standings you are in no position to turn down a longshot.