Friday, May 09, 2008

Fabian Brunnstrom

NHL scouts are always on the lookout for the next big star. Anybody who potentially could fill that role gains publicity in the internet age far before he has proven himself. Fabian Brunnstrom is the latest (and possibly best example) of this.

Brunnstrom is a 23 year old who was a rookie in the Swedish Elite League this season. He was undrafted by the NHL and was thus able to be signed as a free agent by any NHL team. In his rookie season in the Swedish Elite League, Brunnstrom scored 9 goals and added 28 assists for 37 points in 54 games played. This was good enough for 23rd place in the league scoring. He was beaten in scoring by many players who have already had unsuccessful NHL auditions including Tony Martensson, Mattias Weinhandl, Pavel Brendl and Tomi Kallio. He was not selected to play on Team Sweden in the currently being played World Hickey Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, Quebec (despite the fact 15 Swedish Elite League players are on the team). So what is the big deal?

The big deal is that it is rare (not seen since increased European scouting began) that a player of his level playing in Sweden goes undrafted and becomes a free agent. There were no players younger than Brunnstrom who outscored him in the Swedish Elite League. He made a huge jump from the first division (the Swedish league below the Elite League) this season. As such, he becomes a highly sought after free agent in the NHL.

Yesterday, the Dallas Stars signed Brunnstrom. What can they expect from him in the future?

As a late bloomer, he has often been compared to Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators, but this is a poor comparison. Alfredsson was drafted 133rd overall at age 21. Alfredsson was completing his third year in the Swedish Elite League when he was Brunnstrom's age. In that season, Alfredsson managed 18 points in an injury shortened 22 games. Alfredsson was well above Brunnstrom's development at the same age. I would not expect Brunnstrom to be the next Daniel Alfredsson.

Frankly, I don't know what to expect from Fabian Brunnstrom. I have never seen him play a game. He does have an upside, but the hype regarding his NHL signing has set him up in a situation where he is most likely to fail. It is unlikely that Brunnstrom will be an NHL star - if he does become a star it is very unlikely that he will be an instant star and not require a few years to learn the NHL game properly.

Dallas signed Brunnstrom to a two-year entry level deal. Dallas didn't offer that. Dallas is taking minimal risk on Brunnstrom. If he fails, he can be sent to the minors (or possibly return to Sweden since there is no player transfer deal with the Swedes next year). They are not guaranteeing him ridiculous amounts of money for a player with no NHL (and minimal Swedish) experience.

I expect that there is a better chance that Brunnstrom plays himself out of the NHL in his current deal than becomes a star (although both are possible scenarios). Brunnstrom is in a position where there is a good chance he will fail. He has a lot of hype to live up to. That said, Dallas made a good move. They have taken on minimal risk to sign a player who might have considerable upside. If he fails it is not a major loss.

Here is TSN's story on the signing.

Just a quick correction: a multi-million dollar contract would not have been allowed by the CBA. As a rookie between the ages of 22 and 23, Fabian Brunnstrom was limited to an entry-level contract for 2 years, which is what he got from Dallas.
One thing that Dallas also has that makes him less risky - a good many established veterans such as Modano, Richards, Lehtinen, and Ribiero, down to long-term pluggers Stu Barnes, Steve Ott, etc. He will have no shortage of good role models, and much less pressure to be an immediate impact player. They can let him develop at his own pace.

In any case, good analysis, PHS.
Not just good role models, but even a couple good Swedish role models. You have Norstrom who of course was a captain forever in LA, and Loui Eriksson, who has gone from long-term doghouse resident to an effective two-way winger. Grossman, Holmqvist, Lunqvist... there's a good crop o' Swedes there to help ease the transition from Swedish hockey to North America.

I do wonder about how Dallas will handle the cap hit. UFAs this summer include Norstrom, Miettinen, and Hagman. There's also a large group of RFAs. I think it's likely that Miettinen will not receive an offer, so effectively Brunnstrom is taking his roster spot. Hopefully that's a good trade.
Thank you mathman. I thought (incorrectly) that entry level deals only applied to drafted players.
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