Will Damien Brunner be the next Dan Cleary or will he be the next Fabian Brunnstrom?
The Detroit Red Wings have been filling gaps on its roster with reclamation projects since the salary cap was first implemented. Making the playoffs two decades running makes it tough to secure high draft picks, and the highest the Wings selected during the last CBA was 19th in 2005.
I'm not saying a guy taken at 19 can't do damage, just that he has less of a likelihood to be a game-breaker type that you see in the first few picks.
So, management has pulled talented guys off of what appeared to be the NHL's scrap pile and turned them into NHL regulars.
He was thought to have busted out before finally finding his work ethic in Detroit. Todd Bertuzzi still skates like he is carrying the baggage of what happened with Vancouver, but he's been an excellent player for the Red Wings.
Patrick Eaves, when healthy, is an outstanding forechecking forward. Mikael Samuelsson was a bit of a journeyman before helping Detroit to back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances.
You find talent wherever you can, which is why Brunner, long written off because of his size, is currently slated to skate on the top line for the Wings along with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk,
Oddly, the lockout may have actually been a boon to Brunner's career. Had there never been a lockout, perhaps he wouldn't have ended up on a line with Zetterberg in the Swiss League. And maybe that apparent chemistry is never realized, and he never gets a shot at playing with two of the best players (and play makers) in the NHL.
At the same time though, the diminutive forward that had been written off by the rest of the league now only has 48 regular season games to settle into the rigors of an NHL schedule—and a truncated one at that.
Can he cope after spending his career in the Swiss League?
Obviously the opportunity is there for Brunner to make an impact, and to make a name for himself in the NHL. He already has fans in Detroit buzzing after his performance in the annual Red vs White scrimmage earlier this week, but playing up against your own teammates and playing up against Shea Weber isn't exactly the same thing.
The fact of the matter is that he has a one-year deal, and these next few months could very well determine the outcome of Brunner's hockey life. Sometimes you don't get more than one look in the NHL. While Cleary was given various chances, it appears that the once highly-regarded Brunnstrom has fallen off the wagon as he was quietly placed on waivers in October.
So this goes one of two ways for the talented Switzerland native. Either he makes some noise with this chance, and lines himself up for a hefty pay raise after only a handful of NHL contests. Or he can prove himself ineffective, which would all but guarantee his return to being an All Star...in the Swiss League.
My money is honestly (and hopefully) on the former. Despite the fact that he could light it up in Detroit only to leave for a pay day elsewhere, I'd like to think that he could at least be a difference maker for one season for the Red Wings—a season where they could desperately use a push early after a rough off season.
Franklin Steele is a hockey analyst for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for entertaining hockey media from around the Web and for random musings about the sport, or like him on Facebook. He'll make you crock-pot chili and send you an Internet high-five.
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