Brunner has been a scoring machine in the Swiss A league over the past three seasons. During that time, he has 56 goals and 164 points in 132 games. The 2011-12 season was his best, as he scored 24 goals in 45 games.
This season, he has exploded on the scoreboard. In only 29 games, he already has 23 goals and 51 points. His point total leads the league by eight. One reason for his improvement has been the new line that he is playing on.
He has been playing with NHL veterans Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings) and Linus Omark (Edmonton Oilers). All three have seen a jump in their stats since they have been playing together.
One big key in helping Brunner make the transition to the NHL game is that he his playing with his Red Wing teammate in Zetterberg. The chemistry that the two of them are building now will greatly benefit Brunner when he makes the jump to the NHL.
Much is made about the transition from Europe to the NHL game. It is true that the rinks are different sizes and that the NHL tends to be more physical, however, the changes are not as drastic as many like to believe.
Depending on the season, roughly 25 percent of the league is of European origin. The impact of European players can be seen throughout the league. In each of the past three seasons, at least four of the top-10 scorers in the league have been European.
The major NHL awards (Hart, Vezina, Norris and Calder) have also been well represented by European players. Over the past five seasons, these combined awards have seen half of the winners come from Europe. If we only look at the Norris and Hart Trophies, then that number jumps to an impressive 80 percent. It is obvious that Europeans can transition well to the NHL.
One benefit for Brunner is that the Red Wings currently have 11 European players on their roster. These players have made the same transition that he will and have succeeded. They will be a great asset to him for advice on and off the ice. Playing alongside Zetterberg during the lockout will help bring a level of comfort as he enters the NHL.
Now, this is not to say that there is no transition period, only that it is not as drastic as is commonly believed. It is a little much to expect him to maintain his .79 goals per game average or his 1.76 points per game pace from the Swiss league. However, he should be able to reach 35 goals over a full season.
The final key to the Brunner’s future success has been the increased competition in the Swiss league. The league has always been good but, the influx of NHL players due to the lockout has raised the talent level. While it still is not as good as the NHL, it is above its normal standards. This makes his improved numbers even more impressive. It shows that he will not disappear with tougher competition.
Hopefully, a new CBA will be reached quickly. A shortened season is better than no season, and then fans will be able to see how good of a signing Brunner is.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings, as well as many other sports.
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