I'm not sure what to make of Fabian Brunnstrom.
It's possible the Stars feel the same way.
I was in the camp that you shouldn't even offer him a contract after last season, but when the Stars were able to get him signed to a one-year deal at $675,000, I think they had to keep him as an asset. But even Brunnstrom knows his future might be with another team. I think that's why he was so open to structuring his contract the way he did.
Brunnstrom had the option of taking a qualifying offer that would pay him $826,875 at the NHL level and $65,000 at the AHL level. However, he greatly lowered his NHL price to get a one-way contract and make sure that he didn't start the season in the AHL. I personally think some time in the AHL would be great for Brunnstrom, but he wants to play in the NHL. If he's going to play in the AHL, it seems he would just as likely go back to Sweden and play there, and that's the reason for the contract decision.
So now the Stars have a talented 25-year-old winger who is under contract at a reasonable price and appears determined to make it in the NHL. You would think that would be the greatest thing in the world.
The problem is I'm not sure how Brunnstrom fits with the Stars. His talents seem to lean toward high-end skating, impressive puck handling and scoring. His weaknesses are defensive awareness and compete level in battles for the puck. Brunnstrom can be a scoring wizard, and he appears to have skills that could really help a power play. However, he's pretty much been relegated to sit below Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Jamie Benn and Steve Ott in the list of forwards for man advantage time. The Stars simply do not want to move him above those players. Brunnstrom averaged 54 seconds of power play time last season, ranking ninth among forwards. With Mike Modano the only significant departure from that group, there doesn't really seem an opening for Brunnstrom to get more time.
Neal (2:45) and Benn (1:54) will probably eat up most of Modano's now-vacated 2:58 in power play time, and there is a real thought that the power play needs a physical presence like the kind Ott (or Adam Burish) could provide in front of the net. So while everybody can say that Brunnstrom would perform better if he had more power play time, I really don't see how he's going to get that time on the Stars in 2010-11.
Which brings us to where Brunnstrom plays in the regular lineup.
There appears to be an opening on the right wing with Morrow and Ribeiro, but that's the same opening that was available in camp last season. Jamie Benn took those minutes (or some form of them) and Brunnstrom fell to the bottom six. So, as it is with the power play, you have to ask who you would sit to play Brunnstrom up higher? Morrow? Neal? Eriksson? Benn? Heck, Ott and Brandon Segal moved up last season when there were injuries and Brunnstrom remained a healthy scratch for 16 of the final 21 games. With that formula, he tallied just two goals and nine assists in 44 games.
And if Brunnstrom is not playing in the top six, can he play on a checking line with Tom Wandell? It seems Burish, Ott, Brian Sutherby or Toby Petersen are better options. If he plays on the fourth line, what is that fourth line bringing? Even if it's a quick, skilled line with Petersen at center, it still is only going to be on the ice for seven or eight minutes. I guess you could use Brunnstrom as a specialist who starts on the fourth line and then jumps up and gives energy to one of the top lines (or who simply is used more on the power play), but I don't see the Stars doing that either.
He's a big guy at 6-2, 212. He has tons of talent. But he's a left-handed left wing on a team where there are a ton of left-handed left wings, and I fear the Stars coaches don't know how to use him and don't know how to get the talent out of him. To be fair to the coaches, I'm not sure if any coach would choose to develop him on this roster when there appear to be better options that are readily available.
So, we'll see what happens. Maybe Brunnstrom could land on a talented team and be the perfect fit, but I kind of see him as a ``tweener.'' I think Brunnstrom can go to a team and score goals if given top minutes, but the problem is that the team won't be very good if they are giving top minutes to a player like him. I think we see it in players like Jon Sim or even Antti Miettinen. They play well, they score goals, but their teams struggle to win if they are in the top six. They are good players, but they are not good enough to carry a team when given the biggest of key roles.
That's a harsh criticism, I know, but it's something that happens regularly in the NHL.
So we'll see if Brunnstrom can change his game, if the coaches can find a better way to use him, or if he ends up being traded. It will have to be one of those three by the end of the season.