As promised in episode 304 of The Press Box, my Fabian Brunnström article originally published with Inside Hockey. I was privileged enough to interview Brunnström, among others, for this piece, and even though it was conducted via email, it seemed as though he has a really good head on his shoulders. As far as I know, this is the first time Brunnström has actually spoken to the North American media (yes I consider myself media) so you, TPB readers should consider yourselves tremendously fortunate! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me
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If you’ve been living under a rock over the past months and haven’t heard of highly touted Swedish prospect Fabian Brunnström yet, it may be time to find some new living arrangements. Brunnström is one of the most coveted players not playing in the NHL, and he’s enjoying every minute of it.
The 23-year-old was born in Helsingborg, a city in the southernmost part of Sweden. Helsingborg is also the home of IKEA’s international corporate headquarters. Brunnström began playing organized ice hockey at the age of five with the Jonstorp Tigers and 18 years later, he finds himself playing at the highest level of competition in Sweden with Färjestad BK of Elitserien. Furthermore, Brunnström started to receive interest from NHL teams early this season and since then, the hype has continued to skyrocket; however, he is adamant that all the attention he has received has not been a distraction.
“No, it’s not hard for me to focus; it’s fun that some teams are paying attention to me,” said the 6′ 1″, 203 pound left winger, via email. “I never thought NHL teams would be interested in me at the beginning of the season.”
The media frenzy took full force early this year when Pierre Lebrun of Sportsnet stated that as many as 20 NHL teams displayed interest in signing Brunnström, and that the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, and Toronto Maple Leafs were among the front-runners. However, the Brunnström chronicle actually began in November of last year when Ken Campbell of The Hockey News moderately compared the young Swede to Daniel Alfredsson. According to Brunnström, the comparison holds no weight.
“No, I don’t think we are the same type of player,” he said. “I’m an offensive type of player and try play with speed; friends say that I resemble Marian Hossa.”
Cue the Marian Hossa comparisons. Brunnström singles out three highly skilled European power forwards as his favorite players growing up. Coincidentally or not, one of them is Marian Hossa, along with Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Kovalev. International Scouting Serving Head European Scout Magnus Ranstrom also compared Brunnström to Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings. It appears as though everything is falling into place for the prototypical late bloomer. However, his path wasn’t exactly the most traditional for a young prospect in Sweden looking to move up the rungs and garner some attention.
Brunnström, who has adopted the nickname “King” from the Färjestad faithful, played two seasons with Helsingborg HC of the Division 2 league before he moved up to the Division 1 league with Jonstorps IF. Division 1 in Sweden is equivalent to the East Coast Hockey League, relative to the NHL, while divisions 2 and 3 are said to be comparable to a “beer league” in North America.
Last season with Borås HC, who then played in Division 1, Brunnström recorded 73 points in 41 games leading his team to a league championship. Consequently, Borås HC was moved up in the league system to the Allsvenskan, the second highest level of competition in Sweden below Elitserien. Many other General Managers, scouts, and players started to take notice of Brunnström’s impressive play during the qualification rounds to Allsvenskan.
“I would say he’s a pretty all-round and complete player,” said Tommy Enroth, who played against Brunnström last season during the Allsvenskan qualification rounds. “Tremendous skating, very good hands and he sees the ice very well. The thing I first recognized about him was that he could take the puck in his own zone and go coast to coast. But, of course he did that in the Tier 2 league and these things don’t happen as often as they used to now that he’s playing in the elite league. But still, I think Fabian’s best asset as a hockey player is his skating, puck handling and hockey sense.”
After conversing with one of Brunnström’s current teammates on Färjestad, Rickard Wallin, it appears to be a general consensus that his speed, puck handling abilities, and overall hockey sense are his forte. Wallin also describes Brunnström as a “very good teammate who works hard and is very serious about everything about the game.” However, Wallin pointed out that despite Brunnström’s fantastic season, he struggled down the stretch and into the playoffs – only recording one goal in 12 postseason games – and that some wrinkles could be ironed out in his defensive game.
Perhaps, Brunnström’s route on way to the National Hockey League can be compared to that of Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks. Four years ago, Edler was playing for a senior men’s team called Jamtland (which no longer exists) in the Swedish Division 3 league. Now, he has emerged into a premier defender and was receiving as much interest at the recent NHL trading deadline from other NHL General Managers as Brunnström has been receiving all season. Brunnström suggests that Edler’s success in North America has had a positive impact on him, and on any many others in Sweden.
“If he could make the NHL, maybe more players who play in the lower divisions can do it,” said Brunnström. “He’s showing the way and is for sure an inspiration for many kids.”
Cue the Brunnström to Vancouver rumors. All kidding aside, the Canucks, Red Wings, and Maple Leafs continue to lead the way in the sweepstakes to lure over the promising young Swede. And contrary to earlier reports, Brunnström has yet to commit with the Red Wings or any other NHL team.
Detroit Red Wings Director of European Scouting, Hakan Andersson was the first on the Alexander Edler case four years ago, before head European scout Thomas Gradin of the Vancouver Canucks heard the rumblings and convinced the organization to use their third round draft choice on him. This time around, according to TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the first to express interest in Brunnström, yet the same result may very well come about.
“It’s my understanding the Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the first teams, thanks to their Euro scout Thommie Bergman, to take notice of Brunnström but the organization may have been slow off the mark in terms of proceeding, which allowed everyone else to enter the fray,” said McKenzie. “The Red Wings are the gold standard when it comes to finding gems in Sweden but I don’t know that Detroit was ahead of the curve on this one. The Wings are certainly in the mix on Brunnström but so are Vancouver and Toronto and some others.”
McKenzie went on to say: “He will certainly get a contract commensurate with a high-end first round draft choice and will be given the opportunity right off the bat to earn top six forward type minutes. How well he embraces that remains to be seen, but he is, at this point, based on my conversations with scouts, a great prospect as opposed to a great player and he may need some time to adjust,” when asked if Brunnström can be expected to be an impact player in the NHL next season.
In today’s salary cap era, the value of “a great prospect” is second to none, and Brunnström will at the very least provide solid depth to whichever NHL organization he joins.