Brunner's four points lift Wings over Canucks
DETROIT — Everyone around the NHL knows about Detroit stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Soon everyone around the NHL will also know the name Damien Brunner.
From the second Brunner arrived on North American ice, he's managed to do what he did when he dominated the Swiss National League A — score.
On Sunday, the first-year center was at his best, scoring two goals and assisting on two others in an 8-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
That gives Brunner a team-high 10 goals, three off the league lead. He has 16 points in 19 games, probably better than the Wings had hoped for when they signed him.
"I have high expectations for myself, and I wanted to come over and prove that I can play in this league," Brunner said. “And when you play with guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and Fil (Valtteri Filppula) — and on the power play, you have (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Niklas) Kronwall and (Daniel) Cleary — you get chances to score.
"When you get those chances, you have to put them in. I'm happy they're going in right now."
Brunner also benefited from playing with Zetterberg for EV Zug during the lockout, and Zetterberg has eased Brunner's transition to NHL-style hockey.
Before the season got under way, Zetterberg said he believed Brunner had nothing left to prove in Switzerland and would fit in well with the Wings.
Brunner has proven him right.
"I think you can't forget that he's been playing pro over there in Swiss (League) for a long time," Zetterberg said. "He's been playing in all of those kind of situations ... When he gets his chance, he's good."
Brunner's first goal Sunday, which made it 5-3 with 42 seconds to play the second period, came on a rebound in front of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo. Brunner held onto the puck for a moment before shooting.
"Good shot, smart player, good hands," said Joakim Andersson, who also had two goals, one assisted by Brunner. "He got a nose for the net, for sure."
But despite Brunner’s being tied with Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd and New Jersey's David Clarkson for seventh in the league in goals, one person has yet to entirely take notice — Brunner.
"I am?" Brunner said in surprise of his place in the scoring standings. "OK, I have to be honest with you, since I got here, I feel like I have no time to study the stats because I’m always sleeping and recovering and eating.
"I know that I have 10, but I have no idea who is leading the league right now."
Unlike a lot of European players, who prefer to pass first, Brunner will shoot at almost any time.
He is also in the top 15 in the league in shots on goal with 66, ahead of Zetterberg, who has 62. Washington's Alex Ovechkin entered Sunday in the league lead with 75 shots.
"It is amazing," Zetterberg said. "I played with him over in (Switzerland) and I saw that he has that special touch.
"You don’t see him for a long, long time, and all of a sudden, he comes up there and scores a goal. He has that kind of sense to be in the right spot in the right time, and he has a good shot."
One of the concerns about Brunner was how he would adjust to the smaller ice surface, especially with all of the fast NHL players working to take away his time and space.
That hasn't been much of a problem.
"When I came over here, I knew it was going to be tougher to create scoring chances because the players were bigger and tougher," Brunner said. "But I tried to come in with the strategy to just play my game, be confident, and when I got the puck, do the same things that I did in Switzerland. It’s paid off so far."
The toughest adjustment for Brunner has been the relentless schedule.
"I have to admit that’s the toughest part so far, playing in so many games and the traveling," Brunner said. "You have to be mentally focused every night and try to get the best out of yourself.
"You can’t have nights off because they will take advantage of you. But it’s an excellent challenge, and you have to learn to grow in this role."
Although EV Zug played around 10 games a month, the Wings are playing 15 in February. Plus, they're in the Western Conference, so travel can be arduous — as it will be this coming week, when they head to the West Coast.
Because Brunner is already 26, he's not eligible to win the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league's top rookie; however, that doesn't matter to the Wings, who are beyond thankful — especially since they've been depleted by injuries — that Brunner chose to join them instead of another team.
"He finds ways to score goals," Zetterberg said. "He’s always in the right spot, and when he gets a chance, he’s got a good shot. He is important."