In his first 19 games this season he was red hot with 16 points, including 10 goals. Yet, in his last 16 games Brunner has just 6 points and 1 goal.
Clearly the North American game is starting to wear on the Swiss forward, however fatigue isn’t the only issue here.
Added Defensive Attention
Brunner was an unknown commodity with zero NHL experience when the season began. He scored a few goals early on, had a highlight reel shootout experience, and a few weeks later he was among the league leaders in goals. However, this production caught the eye of opposing coaches and teams stopped treating him like a soft-Euro and started taking away his time and space. As of late he’s been experiencing much tighter coverage when sneaking into the slot, and Defenses have been on him much quicker and harder in the corners. Brunner can mentally adjust to this tougher North American game, but it will be a slower process building up the physical strength to fight through the tougher coverage.
Brunner has also been focusing on playing a much more defensive game lately. He’s been back-checking harder and also appears to be much more aware of the oppositions breakout potential. These simple but new-found defensive responsibilities are naturally going to lower his offensive output as he learns to adjust.
When Zetterberg Slows, Brunner Slows
Like Brunner, Henrik Zetterberg had a hot-start this season but has started to cool off as of late. Zetterberg had 25 points in his first 19 games, but has only 7 points in his last 15 games.
Zetterberg and Brunner played together during the lockout for Ev Zug of the Swiss National League A, and they quickly developed chemistry together there, with Zetterberg scoring 32 points in 23 games and Brunner scoring 57 points in 33 games. That chemistry quickly translated to the NHL early in the season, but now that Zetterberg’s scoring has begun to dry up, so has Brunner’s.
The Red Wings captain is also currently out of the lineup with a groin injury he sustained against the Chicago Black Hawks on March 28th.
All of this, combined with a brutal NHL schedule and travel, and its no surprise why Brunner has suddenly gone quiet. He’s been regulated to 3rd line lately in hopes that he will find his scoring against opponents 3rd lines. Unfortunately, playing against weaker lines hasn’t helped him much. He’s clearly a player that is at his best when on the wing of a great playmaker like Datsyuk or Zetterberg.
The upside? This slump will certainly lower Brunner’s price tag when he needs to be re-signed this off-season.
The Red Wings also need to re-sign Filppula, Howard, Cleary, Smith, Kindl, Nyquist, Andersson, White, and Miller this Summer. Some of those players may be allowed to hit free agency, but Filppula, Howard, Smith, and Kindl alone will be demanding significant pay raises. So perhaps it will be a good thing for the Red Wings and their salary cap to get Brunner on another cheap contract.
With the level of talent he’s shown it’s clear he’s capable of producing more than he is now, so another cheap contract may be a steal for the Red Wings.
Brunner’s with good role models in Detroit, and given his commitment to learning the defensive side of the game, he appears to be on track for a great NHL career. Even the best-of-the-best goal-scorers go through scoring droughts, e.g. the recent Alex Ovechkin.