THE YOUTH MOVEMENT RETURNS

 

Once again, it has been an eternally long summer – but our favorite sport is back, along with the best league in the whole world.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask the few thousand who packed arenas in Prague and Stockholm to catch four NHL teams get a head start to the new season!

One of the best quotes I heard all summer was from Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, at the NHL Awards.  Upon accepting the league’s first ever Lifetime Achievement Award (one guess who gets the next one), he stated the league is in great hands, not good hands, great hands – all because of the exciting young talent making its way on to the ice!  As a hockey fan, observer, commentator and blogger, I couldn’t agree more.

THE KIDS ARE HOT TONIGHT

If you haven’t been able to notice more younger, faster players making their way into hockey’s biggest showcase, you haven’t been paying attention to any of the roster moves.  In a league formerly dominated by strength and veteran leadership, the torch has been passed on to the young, speedy and talented.  One need look no further than the recent list of former stars were unable to secure a job with an NHL franchise for this winter.  Jeff O’Neill, Petr Nedved, Kyle McLaren, Claude Lemieux (I’m not joking!), the list goes on and on.  Even still, are the veterans who are as of this writing undecided as to whether or not they’ll even play – of course I’m talking about Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan.  In yet another shocker – even the league’s oldest player, Chris Chelios, won’t be opening the season as he broke his shin while, what else? – blocking a shot.  And today as these players are household names, before long we’ll all be talking about the likes of Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Patrik Berglund, Derek Brassard, Jesse Winchester, Kyle Turris, Blake Wheeler, Nikolai Kulemin, Luke Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo, and on and on.

Not to worry, though, there is plenty of talent, speed, grit and excitement that will ensue.  For probably the first time in a long time, aside from Detroit, can you honestly pick who will dominate the standings?  Well, since my job is to have all the answers, here’s my take on the season to be: expect the unexpected.

All the so-called pundits are picking Detroit to repeat, and for good reason – they not only kept the core team intact, they got even more weapons in their arsenal (more to come).  In fact, when Las Vegas releases their odds to win the Stanley Cup, don’t be surprised if the Red Wings end up 3-1 or even 2-1 odds on favorites.  However, and a big however – there is a reason we play an 82 game schedule – and there will be no days off for the boys of winter, not to mention 29 other teams who will attempt to have a say in Detroit’s quest to repeat as champions.  But rather than analyze ad-nauseum every single team, let’s check out a list of the top five contenders, pretenders, and, well, you know.  At the mid-season point we’ll revisit my list to see just how right (or wrong) I am.

 

THE CONTENDERS 

1.      Detroit Red Wings

They are the defending champions, and they got even more powerful in the off season, adding sniper Marian Hossa to the mix.  Some are saying this could be a curse rather than a blessing, given he’s never won the big game or scored the big goal – but even those who are skeptics have to admit – Hossa came a long way last season, even though his team still lost when it counted most.  The only member of last year’s Wings squad not returning wasn’t really a factor in the playoffs anyway – Dominik Hasek has finally decided to call it a career.  Still stellar on defense with Nicklas Lidstrom, still lethal on offense with Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who clearly took their game to an entirely new level last season.  Any team who is able to beat the Red Wings in the playoffs should look forward to a very long post season run – they’ll have to earn it, that’s for sure.

2.      San Jose Sharks

If any team can say they did the most improving over the summer, it is arguably the Sharks.  While they lost trade deadline acquisition Brian Campbell to free agency, they went out and got a former Stanley Cup winner in Dan Boyle, a power play specialist in Rob Blake, and, a rare veteran who seems like he’ll actually make it through opening night – Jeff Friesen is back, for now.  Let's not also forget the most colorful veteran in the game - Jeremey Roenick.  He has decided to give it one more go, and why not?  Still armed with firepower with one of the most explosive top lines in the league with Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton, and with a new head coach – could this be the year San Jose loses the “Ottawa Senators West” label?  Speaking of youth – look for former Ottawa 67s phenom Logan Couture to get a crack at a full time roster spot, sooner, rather than later.

3.      Anaheim Ducks

As much as we love to hate Brian Burke, he still has one of the most dominant teams in the league, if they can ever stay out of the penalty box long enough.  Victims of the Stanley Cup hangover, the Ducks were determined not to make the same mistakes this year.  Both Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer are signed and ready to go.  Niedermayer has been given back the “C”, Chris Pronger, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Scott’s brother Rob still call this team home.  They’ve added Nathan McIver and Ken Klee to complement an already lethal back end.  Former Vancouver Canuck Brendan Morrison has signed on as a free agent.  Most importantly, the Ducks are free of the cancer that is Todd Bertuzzi (which is also why the Calgary Flames are not part of this list).  Don’t count out the Ducks – even though they no longer have “mighty” in their name, they still are, but they’ll have to stay disciplined.  On paper the Ducks should be a contender.

4.      Philadelphia Flyers

They continue to get it done in the East the same way they’ve managed to get it done for decades – skill, grit and scoring.  It doesn’t hurt to actually have a goalie who can actually stop the puck either.  Philadelphia really impressed me last season.  Not surprisingly, they had no answer for the high flying Pittsburgh Penguins, but lucky for them, they’ve gotten better, and the Penguins, well, have not.  They will probably miss Jason Smith on D, but they have enough up and coming scoring talent to overcome it, and they still have Martin Biron between the pipes.  Here is another team virtually unchanged from where we last saw them, in the Eastern Conference final.  There’s talk Bryan Berard may join this team any day now – so he should be able to at least help keep the offending teams at bay.  The time for Philly is now, and on paper, they are stacked with Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter all returning.  New faces include Glen Metropolit and rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa – the very reason a guy like Jason Smith was expendable in the first place.  The Flyers will be exciting to watch yet again.

5.      New York Rangers

An obvious choice after starting the season 5-0 as of this writing, but can they keep it up?  It’s been said the best moves the Rangers made over the summer were the ones they didn’t make – that means letting Sean Avery and Jaromir Jagr do what they felt was best for them.  It paid off, as it freed up money and cap room for the likes of Markus Naslund, Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, and Nikolai Zherdev.  The Rangers seem to so far have the perfect blend of experience and youth, and a couple more players you’ll be hearing a lot about in New York are leading the way: Aaron Voros, Brandon Dubinsky, and Daniel Girardi.  Give them last year’s free agent signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury and while they’re not Mark Messier, they complement the team nicely.  Of course, let’s not forget about the flashy Petr Prucha, who came to training camp in the best shape of anybody on the team – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed both with the players and training staff.  In net, only the most underrated goalie in the game today – Henrik Lundqvist.  He just keeps getting better and better.  The New York Rangers will be at the very least a tough opponent, but so far so good in the standings.

Honorable Mention: The Dallas Stars for taking a risk on an unproven Swedish Elite League superstar (more to come); the New Jersey Devils for keeping Martin Brodeur happy and for reassembling, as best as they could, some members from their past glory years; and the Edmonton Oilers for continuing to have the guts to try and build a competitive team built around speed.

 

THE PRETENDERS

1.      Ottawa Senators

As much as they want to try and believe the disaster which was last year is behind them, along with the baggage that went with it, this season in the early stages shows no sign whatsoever as being any different for the boys from Canada’s Capital, the city I call home.  Exit Ray Emery, Wade Redden, Brian McGrattan.  Enter Jason Smith and, Alex Auld?  Exit Brian Murray, enter Craig Hartsburg?  While I like Hartsburg as a coach and all of his accolades and accomplishments, I get the sense this will end up a story of too little too late.  OK, so they’ve only played three games so far, two of them overseas.  Here’s what I don’t like.  Jason Spezza, now skating under the instruction of his 4th NHL head coach, is still trying the same tricks that got him benched with Jacques Martin.  Quite frankly, he was the only coach who had enough guts to stand up to the kid and tell him, Kid, you cannot go up the middle and get past three guys without being made to look foolish 9 times out of 10.  The deke move on Sheldon Souray aside (when Souray was in Montreal), all too often he makes plays that cost his team a goal, or in the case of the first game, the win and ultimately the extra point.  The team said they wanted secondary scoring, but yet the “pizza line” of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Spezza is still the top line, and for all intents and purposes can’t be split up because the rest of the team can’t score.  Mike Fisher, with all of his brilliance, looks like he’s in for another injury riddled season.  I really like Jason Smith as a defenseman, I always have – he will plug a big hole made with the departure of Wade Redden – but Smith didn’t help Edmonton and Philadelphia to long playoff runs by himself.  Luckily Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are still around.  The Sens still have goaltending issues, even though they choose to deny it.  It looks like another year of goalie 1A and goalie 1B – or as we’ll inevitably see next spring – goalie 2C and goalie 2D.  Martin Gerber and Alex Auld have yet to prove themselves as playoff goaltenders.  So far I have to give a slight edge to Auld, but again, we’re barely three games into the schedule.  If they awarded championships based on regular season statistics – then the Senators should have been champions six times over by now – the reality is regular season success doesn’t equal playoff success.  For some reason, Ottawa still doesn’t seem to understand this, but yet they are quick to pick on Toronto?  A word of advice – clean up your own house first.  The Senators should still be pretty good and will probably make the playoffs – but then what?  One name keeps flying around the rumor mill – Nikolai Khabibulin.  Another name I keep hearing – Mats Sundin.  I can’t imagine the Sens being able to fit even one of these players under the cap, but stranger things have happened here in the past.  Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.

2.      Pittsburgh Penguins

As excited as almost everyone was to see the Penguins make their way back in the finals, don’t expect a repeat performance this year.  Clearly, Pittsburgh has taken a huge step back in the off season.  They practically mortgaged their entire future to get Marian Hossa, and now he has flown the coup to be with the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.  OK, well forget practically - they did mortgage their future for Hossa, and now have virtually nothing to show for it except for an appearance in the finals.  Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts have moved on to Tampa Bay, Georges Laraque to Montreal.  Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar will both miss time with injuries.  Darryl Sydor hasn’t played since last year.  All of the above were replaced by Miroslav Satan, Matt Cooke and Eric Godard?  Lucky for Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury is still here, but he has looked shaky at best in the early going.  Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin will all be called upon to carry the scoring load, but unlike last year, they only provide one or two scoring threats to deal with – last year they had four balanced lines.  In today’s defense first game, they shouldn’t be too hard to contain.  Oh yeah, and Ty Conklin is also now with the defending champs.  Ouch!  Fleury better stay healthy!  If the Pens have something to rally behind, though, it’s the way they played last season after losing key members of their team – Crosby, Fleury and Roberts all missed time but the team never lost a beat.  So far, Tyler Kennedy has been a great story, but after him and the big 3, the depth chart is severely lacking.  Pittsburgh should make the playoffs, but I can’t see them getting back to the finals again anytime soon.  There won’t be much the team can offer this year at the deadline as they let it all go last year.

3.      Chicago Blackhawks

OK, I know the Hawks still need to make the playoffs, and if this year’s roster is any indication, they should return with a vengeance.  I already mentioned Brian Campbell, who should improve Chicago’s already good power play.  The key will be can the team stay healthy (that means you Martin Havlat!), and can they do something about their goalie controversy.  It’s no secret the Blackhawks want to unload goalie Khabibulin in the worst way to give more playing time to free agent Cristobal Huet, who joins his third team since last October. Up front, the usual suspects of Havlat, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will put enough pucks in the net, and the arrival of Campbell makes their already good defense of Keith Carney, Duncan Keith, Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook better.  Tough guy Jesse Boulerice is now on this team, even though they already had a pretty good enforcer in Dustin Byfuglien.  We need Chicago back in the playoffs, and I think if they can get there they’ll make some noise.  I still think they aren’t experienced enough to get past the first round, but if nothing else they will be fun to watch again.  Must be time to fire the coach, eh (Best of luck, Mr. Quenneville)?  Depending on where they are at Christmas, keep an eye on the trade trigger in the Windy City.

4.      Calgary Flames

Why is everybody so high on the Flames?  OK, so they still have Jarome Iginla, Craig Conroy and one of the best up and coming defensemen in the game with Dion Phaneuf (who graces the cover of NHL 09), but aside from a few fairly mediocre acquisitions they are still the same team who bowed out early in seven games to the San Jose Sharks last spring.  Now even I will admit, Mike Cammalleri is an amazing player in his own right, but the Flames let Alex Tanguay get away.  Both are dynamic players and had they been able to keep Tanguay we may be writing a different journal.  Next up, the move I can’t stand – Todd Bertuzzi – mark my words, as much as maybe we all should move on from the big incident from years ago, this guy is too big and too clumsy to make a difference.  He will be the same cancer on this team as he was in Anaheim last season and in Detroit the season before.  He’s already proven it early on – and the referees are watching and are not fooling around.  OK, so maybe the Vancouver player embellished a little bit, but if one player should know better about the borderline boarding plays, it should be Bertuzzi.  Quite frankly, I feel Todd will bring more harm than good to this team – especially if this team actually makes the playoffs and are trying to control a tight game.  We saw it during the first weekend, we saw it during the Olympics, we saw it during his time in Vancouver, Detroit, Anaheim and NY Islanders.  Of course, he still has time to prove me completely wrong, but so far I haven’t seen it.  OK, so enough about Bert for a second.  What on earth has happened to Miikka Kiprusoff?  If the Flames are going to go anywhere, Kipper has to get back to the goaltender he was during the 2004 run to the finals, period.  It’s still early, but with all of the improvements other teams in the Northwest Division have made (or not, do you hear me Colorado?), Calgary looks like they’ll be scrambling to keep up (as their play so far has demonstrated) – especially once they decide to tune out Mike Keenan, if they haven’t already done so.

5.      Washington Capitals

I have to admit, I was really happy to see Washington make the playoffs last year in as dramatic fashion as they did.  Even though at the time I was somewhere between Washington and Richmond, Virginia on Interstate 95, the news came at a time when we needed to see some exciting new blood in the post season.  They almost made it work too, as they gave Philadelphia all they could handle in one of the most exciting seven game series in recent memory.  So, as much as we all want to see an encore, unless they manage to convince Chicago to give them back Cristobal Huet, it’s going to be another long season in the American Capital.  Not only is Huet gone, so too is Olie the Goalie – a mainstay in goal for as long as I can remember – he now calls Tampa Bay home.  Quite frankly, with Jose Theodore between the pipes, the Caps are in big trouble.  The way they will get their points is early and often, but if they go up against teams who know all about Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, there will be more long nights than short.  At least Mike Green is back on the back end (I’ve always said the best move a team can make is to keep its assets), and to complement A.O. and A.S. will be the return of Michael Nylander, not to mention Chris Clark.  Both missed considerable time with various injuries.  The big question will be does Sergei Fedorov care enough to keep playing his best or will he disappear like he did so often before.  Like Chicago, at least the Capitals will keep things exciting.  Whether they can make it to the post season remains to be seen.

Honorable Mention: Colorado Avalanche, for allowing Joe Sakic to come back for another season.  It's time for a new leader in Denver, period (and Ryan Smyth doesn't count!).

 

WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER…PERHAPS…

1.      Toronto Maple Leafs

You have to hand it to the proverbial centre of the hockey universe – they come out and shock the defending Stanley Cup Champions on opening night and have everybody in Toronto abuzz with a hard fought well deserved 3-2 win, then they head back home and get embarrassed by their biggest rivals from Montreal by a count of 6-1.  Which Leafs team will we see this year?  Well of course as of this writing everyone is now saying the latter.  One thing’s for sure – they somehow managed to rid themselves of a few salaries they didn’t want to sustain for much longer – Bryan McCabe now calls Sunrise, Florida home, Darcy Tucker is somewhere in Denver, and Mats Sundin can’t decide, but for sure will not return to captain what will now be a fairly young team.  I really like a couple of the rookies – forward Nikolai Kumelin should really help in the goal scoring department, and defenseman Luke Schenn will get a good look, but will he stay?  So far so good.  It’s looking like the goaltender job will be Vesa Toskala’s to lose – Curtis Joseph is back, but was absolutely brutal in the aforementioned 6-1 drubbing.  It’s just too bad the team’s management doesn’t know when to keep their mouth shut.  Before the puck had even dropped they were publicly stating the team doesn’t have enough talent.  While this may be true, equate this to the upper management of whatever organization you work for having nothing but negative things to say about their most important assets – their employees.  At this point, the Leafs will have to suck it up and take it one game at a time.  New coach Ron Wilson has a great system if the team players are willing to buy into it.  Most are saying it won’t matter, but if they have more games like opening night than not, they will be the toast of the Northeast division, much to the chagrin of the Habs and Sens.

2.      Columbus Blue Jackets

Still the lone remaining expansion team to not make the playoffs, it’s not looking like the Jackets will be getting any closer to making it to the big dance.  Quick, name one player on this team besides Rick Nash?!  Wrong, Zherdev is now in New York.  I’m unsure where to place the blame for the team’s futility – once upon a time it seemed like just a matter of time before the Jackets started qualifying for the postseason.  Doug Maclean was supposed to be the general manager who would build a winner.  Ken Hitchcock was supposed to be the best coach for the job.  Yet still here we are, without even a sniff of the playoffs.  I know it’s very early but it’s not looking like they are going anywhere fast.  Mike Peca, who is supposed to be a leader on this team (bet you didn’t know he was on the roster) seems more preoccupied with abusing officials, although he is appealing the automatic 10 game suspension, saying the referee over reacted.  We’ll see.  For a period of time it looked like goalie Pascal Leclaire was going to lead this team to a playoff berth.  It didn’t happen.  After getting Adam Foote to play a partial season here, he seemed more intent on finishing his illustrious career in Colorado (who aren’t faring much better of late).  It should be very interesting to see what happens in Columbus in the coming weeks, especially if they don’t start putting wins on the board.  Will Hitchcock be the second NHL coach to be fired this season?  Stay tuned, but regardless of what happens, don’t expect miracles out of Ohio.

3.      Los Angeles Kings

So far, so good for the Kings, especially after losing Mike Cammalleri to Calgary, but are they really that good or are the teams they’ve played so far just not found their groove yet?  They played Anaheim to a 6-3 win?  It just doesn’t seem right to me.  Nor does it seem right to have a team with a 1-2 record to be on the verge of a playoff spot.  While it doesn’t seem like anybody in the Pacific is going to touch San Jose, don’t expect the early streak to continue for Los Angeles.  Eventually the loss of Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky is going to cost this team some close games.  Jason LaBarbera, as good as he is, can’t stop them all.  Jarret Stoll should help them in the face off department, but they already had some pretty good face off guys in Michal Handzus and Patrick O’Sullivan.  Tom Preissing and Alexander Frolov are still here, and another new addition, Kyle Calder, will help in the scoring department.  Matt Greene is a solid defenseman, but gets into penalty trouble too much.  The future is bright for this team with a nucleus made up of Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and the exciting young star Anze Kopitar, who has just signed a long term contract.  In case you missed it, Kyle Quincey was just claimed off waivers from Detroit.  The Kings will be fun to watch, but even if they make the playoffs, I’d be very surprised if they get past the first round.

4.      Tampa Bay Lightning

It’s hard to say how long the Barry Melrose experiment will work in Tampa, and even how much longer management and fans will wait for all the new faces to form some chemistry with the big 3 of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Prospal.  Steven Stamkos, the 1st round draft pick, should get to see a lot of playing time, but as an 18 year old he is still learning the ropes.  Nice moves bringing in well known forwards Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Ryan Malone, Jussi Jokinen and goalies Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig.  One would think with all the offense they have they’d have a better record, but it’s still very early.  The biggest question mark is on defense.  You can’t replace a guy like Dan Boyle very easily, and especially not with Andrej Meszaros and Matt Carle combined.  Once this team explodes, look out.  I just don’t think it will be in time to salvage a playoff spot, especially in the always tight Southeast division.

5.      NY Islanders

As well as their Rangers counterparts are doing out of the gate, so far it’s been nothing short of a disaster on Long Island.  For starters, their big money goaltender Rick DiPietro has sat and watched as newcomer Joey MacDonald has seen all the playing time.  DiPietro is day to day nursing a knee injury.  The news went from bad to worse, as one of their best stay at home defensemen, Radek Martinek, will miss close to 2 months, and yet another defenseman, Brendan Witt, is day to day after hitting his head on the ice.  Not a good start in the man games lost department.  Add to this a 7-1 embarrassment at the hands of Buffalo, and the good news is their next game is against Tampa Bay.  I’m really not sure, though, what this team has to offer outside of Doug Weight, Mike Comrie and Mike Sillinger.  It’s probably a good thing Trent Hunter is still around.  Mark Streit will probably help on defense, but will it be enough.  As they say in the Bronx – fuggedaboudit!!

Honorable Mention: Anaheim Ducks?  Wait a minute!  How can the Ducks be a contender and pretender all at the same time!?  0-4 with no indication of improvement...never mind, it's still way early, and by now I've lost all of my credibility – moving along!!!

 

ALONG THE BOARDS

A couple of quick notes this time around.

It seems everybody has an opinion on the opening night disaster which was the NHL Rocks segment where Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott placed the Stanley Cup upside down.  Some, including Red Wings defensemen Chris Chelios, feel it was done on purpose.  Elliott, who many will argue his best years are long behind him, retorted to his mistake with his quip “well we’re soccer boys, what do we know?!”.  OK, fine and dandy, I’m willing to accept the notion that perhaps Def Leppard is from England and doesn’t follow hockey.  What I don’t understand, however, is if you’re booked for a gig promoting Hockey, would nobody, including even the band’s publicist, not have the presence of mind to at the very least go to nhl.com and check out what the Cup looks like?  Ignorance is bliss, I guess.  As for whether it was done on purpose, who knows?  What I do know is this: Def Leppard have played more hockey arenas than the average NHL player will get to a see their entire career!  Surely at some point they’ve seen pictures of the cup?  Maybe I’m getting old, but I hold the opinion the entire thing was in jest – I mean come on – Darren McCarty is a huge fan of the band and I’m sure must have somehow orchestrated the whole thing – want to blame somebody, blame McCarty!  It’s interesting to note, sophomore Kyle Quincey was the player who actually turned the Cup right side up – and subsequently was placed on waivers and claimed by Los Angeles the very next day.  Coincidence?

And on a sad note, we say goodbye and good luck to, none other than who was a promising young player in Alexei Cherepanov, who passed away suddenly after collapsing during a game in the new Kontinental Hockey League.  Cherepanov was playing for Avangard Omsk, a team he still had a contract with for this season, and a future New York Rangers prospect.  Reports are conflicting at best, but it’s been suggested he died of a heart attack simply because he should never have been on the ice in the first place due to a heart condition.  As far as I know this is the first we’re hearing of this, and an investigation by the KHL is forthcoming.  What’s scary is this – while reports are sketchy at best, it’s believed the ambulance left the arena with less than 2 minutes left in the game, and conveniently enough, Alexei collapsed on the bench shortly thereafter.  When they did finally arrive back at the building it was apparently a good 20 minutes to a half hour, and the scariest part of all – the defibrillator didn’t work properly, either due to lack of battery power, or because it was malfunctioning.  It all sounds fishy to me, but at some point the truth will come out.  It’s a shame, really, because at the end of the day we’ve lost a great future talent and he will be greatly missed.  R.I.P. Alexei.

By the way - nice touch by the Vancouver Canucks with their Luc Bourdon montage during their home opener.  Here's hoping we don't lose anymore great young talent anytime soon!

 

WHO IS THIS GUY?

As promised, every column for this season and beyond, we’ll explore an exciting young player or someone we haven’t heard from in awhile who we may have forgotten about.  This time around, it’s none other than the young man, or shall we say late bloomer, known as the Internet legend: Fabian Brunnstrom. 

The Hockey News has called him the next Daniel Alfredsson (although Alfredsson was drafted, just in the later rounds).  Hailing from Jonstorp, Hoganas, Sweden, Brunnstrom, 23, has made his mark in every top tier Swedish elite league there is.  With Farjestads BK last season he amassed 37 points in 54 games.  He quickly became known as the “Internet Legend” during the playoffs last season when as many as five NHL teams were interested in his services, yet nobody knew who he was.  Undrafted, the Dallas Stars signed him as an unrestricted free agent.  Toronto, Vancouver, Detroit, and even Ottawa were rumored to have been interested.  Dave Nonis evidently was closest to landing the Swedish superstar, but ended up getting canned as G.M. of the Canucks before Dallas eventually won the bidding war.  So with all of this buzz surrounding the prolific scorer who no average Joe in North America had ever seen play before this week, Hockey websites (including mine) were searched for any information or video clips.  Unfortunately, I had nothing to offer, but I appreciate the e-mails!

Why do we care?  Fabian played his first game for the Dallas Stars, and scored not just his first NHL goal, but a hat trick (in fact, almost made it four, but the last goal was disallowed due to a goaltender interference penalty).  While it’s not expected he’ll score a hat trick every game, he certainly has started his NHL career with a bang, playing on a line with Brad Richards, and Sean Avery?  Did I mention the Stars are a scary team this season?

Maybe by the time the standings shape up, I’ll be completely wrong, but this is how I see it.  I won’t sugar coat it, deep down, if you’ve been reading my column long enough, you all know who I’m rooting for anyway – if you don’t know by now, you haven’t been paying attention (hint: they’re 2-0 as of this writing).  So, go forth and watch as many games as you can, and stay tuned to this spot for more.

Enjoy the season!

 

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