Maple Leafs Look Ahead: One Year In, Carl Gunnarsson Showing He Belongs

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Maple Leafs Look Ahead: One Year In, Carl Gunnarsson Showing He Belongs
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

If ever there were an example of a player doing a lot with just a little, it would be Carl Gunnarsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a strong rookie campaign on the blue line.

Born in Orebro, Sweden, the 23-year-old stud used the limited time he had this season to show his team and the rest of the league that he has what it takes to have a permanent spot in the NHL.  

He didn't appear in his first game until Nov. 14 and wasted little time making an impact, registering his first career NHL assist just three days later. Though he only had his number called in 43 games, he made the most of his time while battling injury and getting used to the North American style of play.

He continued his hot start by adding three assists and posting a plus three rating in a Nov. 25 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Just six games into his career and "Gunner" had four points, was a plus three, and was averaging over 20 minutes of ice time.

Not bad at all.

His play continued to improve but the honeymoon was short lived as he suffered an elbow injury on Nov. 30 against the Sabres and missed 22 games. He didn't see action again until Jan. 14. but showed little rust as he tallied his first career goal later that month against none other than Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

What might be his most impressive feat of the season is that he led the team in plus minus (plus eight) as the club's most inexperienced defenseman.

His three goals and 15 points were impressive, and if there were ever questions about his future on the Leafs, he most likely quieted them with his strong performance. The offseason will be crucial if he is to improve in the physical department, as he needs to add some muscle to that 6'2", 196 pound frame.

With great hands and superior speed he has shown he can one day be a force offensively, and with his smarts and vision he can greatly improve in all areas in his own zone.

It also doesn't hurt that he has a chance to practice play with some wily veterans in Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, and Thomas Kaberle (for now) who can only help the to-be sophomore increase his skill level.

He's also lucky enough to get to play internationally this offseason, and the world is getting a sneak peak at the Swedish defenseman in the 2010 IIHF World Championships. And with Sweden advancing to the quarterfinals, Gunnarsson will no doubt be counted on to continue his great play.

He's recorder two points and a plus three rating while averaging 13 minutes of ice time thus far in the tournament.

Before the season began there was plenty of unknowns when it came to Gunnarsson, but through just half a season's worth of games for the rookie, we now know one thing for sure.

It looks as if he's already proved he's an NHL worthy defender.

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