There is a lot to like about Fabian Brunnstrom.
First of all, He can stickhandle like crazy and he has good vision of the ice. Secondly, he showed real ability to score goals last season, despite the fact he is known more as a play-maker. And thirdly, he really doesn't mind working hard to figure out the North American game.
And all for the risk of a free agent contract that ended up paying him $875,000 last season.
While some might say Brunnstrom didn't quite reach the hype in a season in which he had 17 goals and 12 assists in 55 games, you have to call that a pretty good deal.
And this year should be even better.
Before last season, Brunnstrom had not played any game by North American rules. He was a late-bloomer in Sweden, and had to adjust to the rules of the game and the culture of the United States. That showed at times, as he was bad defensively and also was timid offensively. He definitely could have benefited from a trip to the minors, but he had some sort of phobia about going to the minors, so he had only a brief spell there when he was rehabbing an injury.
This season, Brunnstrom understands the game better, has had an entire summer to prepare (and he takes his preparation seriously) and should be ready to be a force from the start of the season. That's a huge plus.
But with the new coaching staff in place, Brunnstrom also has a few challenges ahead. He'll have to prove himself once again, and he'll have to prove himself in an environment where there will probably be some pretty open and intense competition. The left side of the ice looks locked up with Brenden Morrow, James Neal, Steve Ott and a host of others. That means Brunnstrom will once again have to try to succeed as a left-hander on the right side. That's not unusual in Europe, and he said he's actually pretty comfortable over on the right side. But, Jere Lehtinen has strong chemistry with Mike Ribeiro, and Loui Eriksson is probably your second-line right wing with Brad Richards. That means Brunnstrom will battle for the third line right wing spot on a line with Mike Modano. Because Modano's line will do a lot of the checking, Brunnstrom is going to have to learn to play defense. If he doesn't, it's conceivable that Ray Sawada could take his place...or even Jamie Benn or Tyler Shelast or Sergei Korostin or Colton Sceviour.
That's probably not going to happen, seeing as the Stars made an investment in Brunnstrom and they hope to have it pay off. However, it will be interesting to see what happens with Joe Nieuwendyk at GM instead of Les Jackson. I think all five of the players mentioned above have their eyes on a spot in the NHL, and both Sawada and Shelast are right-handed college players who have experience and played in the AHL or ECHL last season. They also are better suited for third or fourth line duty.
I don't think Brunnstrom will get pushed out, but he will have a lot more competition than he did last season. He tallied four goals and two assists in the final five games of last season when he received big-time minutes (including extensive power play time) because of all of the injuries. To me, that says his value is probably highest as a top six forward. Maybe he can push someone like Lehtinen for that role, and Lehtinen could slide down and play beside Modano.
But, if Brunnstrom has to make his place on the third or fourth line, I'll be curious to see how he adapts
It should be a very interesting season from Brunnstrom...but, then again, how many other players have we said that about in these profiles.