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The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet is reporting that the Red Wings have signed winger Fabian Brunnstrom to a professional tryout contract. This news comes to us from our friends at The Production Line, via a Puck Daddy tweet (credit where it’s due, of course).
You should recall that the Wings were courting the Swedish forward back in early 2008 to try to add some offensive depth to the team that ultimately went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Brunnstrom was courted by numerous NHL teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, the Red Wings, and the Dallas Stars with whom he eventually signed on May 8th, 2008.
He started his NHL career off with a bang, recording a hat trick in his first game with the Stars, on October 15, 2008. It wasn’t all roses for Brunnstrom, however, as that proved to be the high point of his career. He played in a total of 99 games with the stars over two seasons, recording only 40 points. He also played 45 games in the AHL over that span, recording 26 points.
Two years to the day he burst onto the scene with the Stars, he was waived, and three months later he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He never cracked the Maple Leafs lineup in his half-season in Toronto, playing 35 games with the Marlies and producing 14 points.
When the Wings initially lost out on the Brunnstrom sweepstakes, they went with the next best European thing, Ville Leino, whom they signed two days after Brunnstrom agreed to his deal with the Stars.
While Leino may not have worked out in red and white, he was very good in a secondary scoring role with the Philadelphia Flyers for a year and a half, putting up 54 points last season. He has been especially productive in the playoffs, recording 21 points in 19 games in 2010 when the Flyers came up just short of a Stanley Cup victory, falling to the Blackhawks.
It should be noted that it is only a tryout contract that Brunnstrom has been offered at this point, which means he will have to earn his way onto the Wings 50 man roster the hard way — by proving his worth in training camp.
As recently as 2005, the Wings were able to use a professional tryout contract to land a player who this year was their second leading goal scorer. Daniel Cleary was a highly touted junior player, but never realized his potential while shuffling around across the NHL, from Chicago to Edmonton to Phoenix. Finally, he found a role he could thrive in playing for the Wings.
While Brunnstrom and Cleary are quite obviously two different players, their situations are not all that different. Like Cleary, if Brunnstrom fails to live up to the hype he came into the NHL with and doesn’t earn a contract with Detroit, his NHL days are likely over. Like Brunnstrom, Cleary was 26 when the Red Wings offered him a new lease on NHL life, saving him from a career in Europe. Cleary had played the season before the Wings offered him a tryout (the NHL lockout year) in the Swedish Elitserien with Mora IK. Brunnstrom reportedly turned down contract offers from Farjestads and HV71 to try out with Detroit. For a Swedish player, that must have been an especially tough decision. He could have easily packed it in and gone home to play somewhere more familiar. Instead, he seems determined to make it happen in the NHL.
If he earns his way into a contract with Detroit, he will likely spend the year in Grand Rapids. The Wings already have 14 other forwards signed, and have youngsters like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson (who Mike Babcock loves), as well as some veterans like Chris Conner, who could be called up if the need arose. Brunnstrom would be playing for next year, in my opinion. With the contracts of Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi (to name a few) set to expire next year, Brunnstrom should be looking to prove that he can be a steady, contributing factor if he wants to be in the Wings long-term plans.
He’ll definitely be a player to keep an eye on when the Red Wings kick off their training camp in September.