DETROIT - First-year Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner is a name NHL fans might hear a lot in the future. The can't-miss Swiss was the most highly sought European free agent last summer after leading the Swiss League in scoring and following it up with a huge showing in the world championship.
Brunner, who is not eligible for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year because he is too old at 26, already has wowed fans with a dazzling shootout winner at Columbus on Monday.
But guess which team was the first to pursue Brunner? Guess which team he credits with first providing him with the realization that he actually might have a future in the NHL?
"Minnesota," Brunner said Friday morning -- hours before playing on a line with Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg against the Wild. Brunner scored the first goal of Detroit's 5-3 victory, on a power play 13 seconds into the second period.
Two years ago, Brunner had a high ankle sprain and traveled to Minnesota to see a doctor with whom his agent Neil Sheehy set up an appointment. Blair Mackasey, the Wild's director of pro scouting, was a big fan, so the Wild invited Brunner to St. Paul for a meeting.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher was willing to sign Brunner right on the spot.
"They said they had been following me for a year and I met with Chuck, but it was just too early for me back then," Brunner said. "I wanted to have a strong year in Switzerland and prove I was ready.
"It was great to meet with them. It was a good switch for my head, like realizing that there's an NHL team interested and it makes you think about it a little more. It made me work harder and made me more focused on that goal to make the NHL."
The Wild was ahead of its time. Brunner went back to EV Zug and led the Swiss League with 60 points. During the lockout, after signing with Detroit, he dominated the league with 25 goals and 57 points in 33 games.
"A couple years ago, he was not as big of a surprise and we weren't competing with as many teams. After last year, everybody wanted him," said Fletcher, who also had a bigger priority to accomplish last summer -- signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
"[Brunner's] a talented offensive player with really good speed. Obviously, we're a team that's struggled to score goals the last few years, so we thought it would be a good fit."
Against the Blue Jackets, Brunner beat Sergei Bobrovsky by going "forehand, backhand, then dragging it back and going forehand. My friends back in Switzerland, they've been giving me a hard time because I didn't lift the puck.
"Normally when I do that move, I lift it up. I definitely got a lot of text messages from friends happy for me. It put me in a good position [mentally] to score my first real goal next game."
Brodin's debut goes well
Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, 19, made his NHL debut, had an assist and had two shots.
"I thought he was great," coach Mike Yeo said. "[It's a] positive for us that this kid could come in and play in his first NHL game and in a building like that and look that good. ... Every indication from what I've seen of him, that's what we can expect."
With Jared Spurgeon day-to-day because of a bone bruise, Yeo loaded up the top defense pairing with veterans Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert, who were on-and-off defense partners in 2003-04 at Wisconsin. Fletcher said the team would take it slow with Spurgeon, although in his next breath said there's a chance he returns Sunday at St. Louis.
Defenseman Marco Scandella, who has been out because of a groin injury since Dec. 20, returned to AHL Houston's lineup at Grand Rapids on Friday.