Brunner excited to begin NHL career
PLYMOUTH, Mich. — It's quite the luxury to begin your NHL career playing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
But that's what new Red Wing Damien Brunner will experience this week.
"That's the easiest thing in the world," Zetterberg said about playing with Datsyuk.
Zetterberg is used to playing with Datsyuk but for Brunner it's going to be completely new.
"I still won’t believe it until I step out on the ice with him," Brunner said after his first practice with the Wings at Compuware Arena Sunday. "He's the only guy I haven't seen on the team. I'm looking forward to meeting him.
"When you have two guys like that on the same line the puck is going to be in the offensive zone a lot. I'll try to catch up with those guys and stay in the right place."
Datsyuk, who remained in Russia to play in the KHL All-Star Game, is expected back in Detroit Monday but won't practice right away.
Brunner, 26, is embarking on a new challenge in the NHL after leading the Swiss League in scoring the last few years. He had 25 goals and 32 assists in just 33 games with EV Zug.
In all but 10 of those games, he was playing with Zetterberg, who went to Switzerland during the lockout.
"He likes to shoot," Zetterberg said. "If you have a shot like that, if I would have that I would love to shoot, too. That's one of his strengths and he will do it. He will have that role here.
"He will be the guy who's going to shoot a lot. He's a righty, so on power plays and stuff, it's going to be fun to see him here over this year. He is good enough to be a good player here."
Brunner has good memories of his first game playing alongside Zetterberg.
"We scored on opening shift," Brunner said. "It was fun. It’s so easy with him he’s such a great guy and a professional. It was great for the whole team."
Zetterberg said Brunner had nothing left to prove in the Swiss League. Now Brunner has a lot to prove, especially adjusting to the smaller ice surface.
"Everything happens so much quicker. I think it's more physical, you don't have as much time as you do over there," Zetterberg said. "It's more straight lines, more starts and stops. That's going to be a challenge for him. It is tough for everyone who comes over from Europe. That's the toughest thing to learn, but he's not 19 or 20. He's 26, he's been around for a while, he's got a lot of hockey sense, so I think he'll figure it out."
Although no one wanted the lockout to occur, coach Mike Babcock was at least pleased that Brunner had Zetterberg join him with EV Zug.
"We think he's obviously a real talented guy," Babcock said. "Time's going to tell how he adapts. It worked out as good for him as it could have possibly worked because obviously leading the league in scoring again for the third year in a row, Z comes over, he develops a friendship, a confidence to play with real good players. Now he's just got to keep doing the same thing so we're excited about having him."
Brunner said Zetterberg had already befriended him when Brunner first came to Detroit a few months ago after signing with the Wings.
"I was supposed to stay at hotel and he had me come join him at his house and I lived with him," Brunner said. "It was a great gesture of a player of his caliber and took away so much nervousness. When a guy like him takes care of you it’s really nice. Easier to have someone look after you than be on your own."
Zetterberg also made sure to help Brunner in his first day practicing with the team.
"It was fun," Brunner said. "More intense than Switzerland, like drills rolling and rolling, no break. Not much explanation, but it was good. Hank was helping me out quite a bit. I knew the drills pretty quick."
Niklas Kronwall said Brunner having that connection with Zetterberg will definitely ease his transition to the NHL.
"It's going to help him big time," Kronwall said. "They've developed some good chemistry already. They know where each other is, they can kind of read off each other. It also helps him get into a routine, getting to know the other guys, too."
Although Brunner was a star in the Swiss League and there are high expectations for such a talented scorer, he said he's just looking to fit in.
"I was playing in Switzerland and now I’m here and I’m battling for a spot," Brunner said. "It’s nice that they have some nice words, but by the end of the day I have to prove it on the ice. This was one day of practice and I can’t say I did anything special. I try to skate hard and put pucks in the net."