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Swiss star signs with Red Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Damien Brunner has compiled 190 points in 167 games in Switzerland's top league. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – How much does coach Mike Babcock like the free agent forward that the Red Wings signed on Sunday?

If last Saturday’s conversation with Detroit area media was any indication, then the coach has plenty of admiration for Damien Brunner, the Swiss star, who signed a two-way entry level contract on Sunday to play for the organization next season.

According to the coach, Brunner has the talent to be a top six forward for the Wings next season.

“I know a lot about him because I went to the World Championships and watched him play,” Babcock said. “The thing for us is he’s high, high paced, he scored, looks like he has tons of skill.

“Can he adjust and play in the North American game? We’re going to give him every opportunity. He’ll be a top six forward to start with us and see where he goes with us.”

The Wings were among a handful of teams who were in the running to land Brunner’s services. But in the end, the Wings won out, agreeing to a one-year, two-way entry level contract with the 26-year-old.

While it might be a gamble to take a flyer on a 26-year-old who doesn’t have NHL experience, the risk for the Red Wings is relatively low especially since every team can use depth, Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said.

“Everybody develops at different stages,” he said. “You see it all over the league with some guys. Some kids in the (2012) draft are going to step into the NHL right away and star, and some guys will be a star – Pavel Datsyuk was a star at 23 or 24. Johan Franzen was like 25, so everybody develops differently. But you still have to go and watch them.”

Brunner played four seasons for EV Zug in Switzerland’s National League A where he played for coach Doug Shedden, a former center with the Red Wings from 1985-87. Last season, Brunner scored 24 goals with 36 assists.

He produced 78 goals and 112 assists in 167 games with Zug. Last October, in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers, Brunner collected a goal and an assist in an 8-4 win played in Switzerland. He’s also played in two IIHF World Championships, including last month’s tournament in Finland. He led the Swiss team with seven points in seven games.

“I went to the World Championship and watched this guy practice every day, I watched him play, I stood in the hallway and let him walk by me,” Babcock said. “Now does that mean he’s any good? We think he is. Have I been wrong before? Many times.”

Babcock said that he encouraged Wings general manager Ken Holland to take a look at Brunner in May.

“Ken looked at him and he liked him too, so we put our best foot forward and we think he’s a good fit,” Babcock said. “Our top six, Franzen and Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Fil are all lefthand shots, this is a righthand shot who plays fast.”

Brunner is slick offensive forward that can play a gritty style, but more importantly, he possesses a heavy shot and is a terrific skater.

“The way I look at it is that you have to make decisions and try to get better,” Babcock said. “We’ve been able to encourage the kid to join us. He could have gone anywhere he wanted. He chose to be a Red Wing.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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