Brunner’s quick adaptation to the NHL has been a pleasant surprise for the Red Wings.
In recent months, I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit harsh on Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland. For this, I’ve taken plenty of flack. Hey, I just ask the questions around here while constantly having an opinion, no matter how unpopular it might seem at times.
We’ll take a break from all that for a second, though, and give him some credit where it’s certainly due. Though it’s early in a shortened season, Holland and his staff might have unearthed another one of their patented big discoveries overseas, even if he’s small. He’s 5’11″and from Zurich. He weighs 184 pounds (likely soaking wet) and is providing a tangible immediate impact.
It’s Damien Brunner I’m speaking of, and with a hot start, he’s caught my grandmother’s eye, even if she doesn’t know how to pronounce his last name. “Who’s this new guy, Bru-en-er?” she asked me today. “You know, just watch out for him, he’s going to be a good one I think. What do you know about him?” This is the woman who literally grew up within the shadow of Olympia Stadium watching Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Terry Sawchuk. Even though the game has changed, she still knows her hockey talent when she sees it.
I proceeded to tell her everything I just told you, while adding in that Brunner had already scored six goals thus far this season, which was only five off the league lead pace of 11. I also made sure to inform her that at age 26, he was already skating with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg without missing much of a beat. That’s certainly good company for a young man to keep. “Zetterberg, he’s usually pretty quiet, but I heard him say Brunner was talented. That’s quite an endorsement,” grandma recanted.
I told you she knows her hockey. In fact, after watching Brunner against Los Angeles this weekend, she’s right about watching out for the kid. He’s got a wicked shot, crafty speed and deft hands. Perhaps his most impressive asset is his ability to not seem overmatched just 12 games into his NHL career. Sometimes, even the most seasoned veterans or finely trained amateurs need time to adjust to the speed of the highest level. Since day one, Brunner has looked like he belongs. He’s thriving in the world’s toughest, speediest game and not getting in the way while playing alongside some of the best. His game has provided the Red Wings’ top six with some additional play making bite at exactly the right time.
This rookie, though his signing didn’t make many front page headlines, is proving to be one of the most valuable pre-lockout roster maneuvers. When there’s an economic climate, teams need to hope they can get lucky and find someone outstanding for a cheap price. The Red Wings have long been masters at this, dating back to their discovery of Daysuk in Russia and Zetterberg and countless others in Sweden. Now, it’s even becoming obvious to old ladies that they have mined some serious gold from the Swiss Alps.
“What about Jordin Tootoo? He’s getting into all these fights and playing dirty! He’s going to be the next Ted Lindsay, don’t you think?”
Well, grandma knows her hockey most of the time. I had to set her straight. Tootoo has roughly 330 goals to go before he even threatens to skate in Lindsay’s shadow. Despite that, she’s still dead on with her assessment of Brunner. He’s Hockeytown grandma approved. Quite an early accomplishment, I’d say.
Play Of The Week: Detroit’s clutch 5 on 3 kill against Edmonton. With the game on the line Saturday afternoon, the Red Wings banded together and managed to kill a terrible man advantage from their perspective. The kill featured plenty of fantastic individual efforts, great goaltending and spectacular team play. Special teams had been a problem for the Red Wings early in the year, but in both weekend games, their penalty kill and power play were dominant. Truly, momentum should have been gained from this performance and a corner turned.
Game Of The Week: Anaheim at Detroit, Friday. No, this isn’t the Ducks against the Red Wings circa 2007, 2008 or 2009, but this match up should still prove very intriguing. Anaheim scored a shootout win in Chicago Tuesday night with some excellent play, and the Red Wings have been rolling along at home. It’s always fun to watch Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Cory Perry. Detroit will want to stay hot against their Western Conference foes, making this game another pivotal one.
Stat Of The Week: 20:41, the amount of ice time that rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff registered in Sunday’s win against Los Angeles. With some steady play, Lashoff is quietly gaining the confidence of Mike Babcock and the staff, and he’s remaining on the ice during key moments as well. Though he was -1, the fact Lashoff logged this much ice time and fared well can only be seen as a positive. He’s coming along better and better as each game passes. Perhaps this number will go up even more as the weeks drag on.
Dead Wings Doghouse: Nobody. Finally, we don’t have to put anyone in the doghouse after a solid week. The goaltending has been decently solid, there was plenty of scoring, special teams was excellent and the Red Wings enjoyed contributions from younger players. Temporarily, life is good.
Central Charting: With 16 points, the Red Wings remain in third place behind Chicago and tied with Nashville and very much in the thick of things. The Blackhawks have 23 points while the Predators have 16.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax