European standout Damien Brunner could be finding himself on the wing of Henrik Zetterberg at the beginning of this season. Considered by some the best free agent signing of the Detroit Red Wings this off-season, he was an offensive force in the Swiss hockey league (NLA) last year, netting 24 goals and 60 points in only 45 games for EV Zug. The 26-year-old Swiss native does need to adapt his game to the North American-sized rink, and coach Mike Babcock believes that should be no problem.
Babcock has mentioned before that he is “top-six talent,” but just with who exactly will he be playing these top-six minutes?
Rumors and quotes say Brunner could fill the spot left by Juri Hudler on the second line with Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula. He is a right-handed shot and has great speed coming up the wing. One thing lacking on the Wings’ second line last year was the reliance on Zetterberg shooting the puck, due to the fact both Hudler and Filppula have historically been pass-first players. With Brunner now on the side of Zetterberg, the opposing defense will have to be more adaptive with more shooters.
There has been additional speculation that Brunner will not end up on the top two lines, but rather start out next to Darren Helm on the third line. Coach Babcock has really talked up Brunner’s speed and ability to transition very quickly into the offense. One could imagine the fear a third line could put into an opposing team’s coach if there are two players almost as quick as Helm on the ice. Moreover, when teams go 4 vs 4 due to offsetting penalties or for overtime, a Helm / Brunner combo could turn deadly.
No matter where Brunner ends up, the is little doubt he will have to adjust his game to a different rink. This seems to be of little concern to the Red Wings, however, as all signs point to Brunner getting big-time minutes at the start of the season.