Whenever an unknown bursts onto the fantasy hockey scene, I’m inundated with questions from poolies. Who is this guy? What’s his upside? Will he make an impact this year? Things are no different in the case of Damien Brunner, who the Red Wings signed July 1.
Of course, there are no black or white answers to the latter two questions, but with a little investigation, we can create and hone the probabilities in our mind.
Brunner is 26 years old. On one hand, that makes him a very late bloomer. On the other hand, however, he’s mature and in his prime. And he hasn’t come out of nowhere. He has been dominant in the Swiss League since his sophomore season with EV Zug three years ago and his performance at the 2010 World Championship earned him phone calls from NHL GMs. So he was 23, not 26, when the hype began. In the ensuing years, he’s been even better, culminating in a 60-point season (45 games) for EV Zug last year.
He’s a smart, shifty forward who can play both the wing and center and has dazzling moves that have earned him YouTube fame. His size is below average (5-foot-10, 176 pounds), but not so much that it’s a real detriment to his chances.
Let’s look at the positives and negatives, when it comes to the outlook of Detroit’s Damien Brunner.
1. No late-blooming European signing, no matter how good, has made an immediate NHL impact. Not Fabian Brunnstrom. Not Ville Leino. Not Jiri Dopita. Not Janne Pesonen. Nobody.
2. In fact, most players fizzle out completely. Occasionally, one will eventually become valuable. It took Leino two years to earn fantasy value after he was signed. But historically, these players go nowhere. In all of the above examples, the player in question was an elite player in his particular league. He was thought to be NHL ready and was coveted by several teams. All for nothing.
3. NHL teams will give an opportunity to a homegrown talent over a free agent who isn’t used to the North American game/ice. Teams spend millions developing a player, from the moment he is drafted until he makes his NHL debut three to seven years later. Do you think the franchise will railroad their prospect so that some new guy can earn his one-year contract? All things being equal, they’ll go with their own guy.
Right off the bat, the odds are slim for players such as Brunner and Calgary’s Roman Cervenka. It’s an uphill battle, no matter what quotes you hear from management and the coaching staff. We’ve heard it all before.
1. Brunner is lighting up the Swiss League to the tune of 34 points in 20 games to lead all players, including NHLers Tyler Seguin (28 points in 17 games), Logan Couture (21 in 17) and John Tavares (18 in 14).
2. Brunner is clicking – big time – on a line with Henrik Zetterberg. You know, that superstar player who also plays for Detroit? Zetterberg has 17 points in 10 games.
3. Zetterberg really likes Brunner. And he wants to play with him.
4. Detroit’s coach, Mike Babcock, truly believes Brunner can be a top-sixer – and probably right away.
The plan is for Brunner to play a few games with Grand Rapids (American League). Then, after getting his feet wet in North America, he’ll try his hand in the NHL. Obviously he’s going to get a look with Zetterberg. If the season is 60 games long, and he clicks with Zetterberg, you can pencil in Brunner for 55 games and 35 points, give or take.
On the flip side, he may struggle with the NHL game. In which case, we’ll see five NHL games and zero points, followed by another AHL stint. He’ll get called up late in the season for another stint.
It would seem that the odds of success – eventually – are good. In fact, Brunner will be a fantasy-worthy player within three seasons. But the smart money is on keeping expectations low for Year 1. You’ll see flashes of brilliance and you’ll probably see it early on, but when the adrenaline fades, he’ll progress at the same pace Leino did.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.
The Red Wings take their time with prospects and Brunner will be no exception.