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Gunnarsson Has Been A Pleasant Surprise

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs


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There are 14 games left in the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and a Swedish defenceman with zero name recognition is leading the team in plus minus with a +9.

Carl Gunnarsson came to camp ready to be a Marlie. Instead, the 23-year-old has snuck into Leafs the lineup because of solid play and a spate of injuries.

He enters tonight’s game having dinged tonight’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, for three points in November.  Of his nine points, four came against the Lightning.

“He’s playing very well. He’s got an excellent plus/ minus,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “We saw it in the World Championships last year, but even we weren’t sure of how that would translate to our team.”

For a guy nicknamed Gunner, the 23-year-old Gunnarsson specializes in flying under the rainbow.

“He’s a guy you don’t really notice when you play against him,” said Rickard Wallin, who played with Gunnarsson on the Swedish national team, “but you really notice how he is one of those guys who almost always makes the right decision.”

Gunnarsson is coming off his third goal in 27 games Tuesday in the 4-3 win over Boston.  Slightly built and with little offensive inclination, Gunnarsson’s special teams play is mostly limited to the penalty kill. It has always been thus.

“I was more defensively minded when I was younger,” he said. “As time went on, I learned the offence.”

Rob Zettler, who assembles the defensive pairings, has used Gunnarsson with Jeff Finger, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin.

All this has made for a blessed season for a player drafted in the seventh round in 2007.

“What I heard about Toronto was that if you play good the media and the fans will love you,” he said. “If you don’t play that good you are going to have a hard time. For me, it’s only been good so far.”

For now, he will deal with surpassing his wildest expectations.

“This was not what I was looking for when I started the season, but that’s the way it is and I’m really happy about it. Right now, I want to keep my spot on the team and set things up for the next year.”

The Leafs will return goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the cage against the Lightning. Giguere was the loser in a 3-1 defeat administered by the Flyers, March 7.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay star Steve Stamkos is on a tear with 16 goals and 15 assists in his last 17 games. Stamkos has 41 goals this season.
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