SUN Hockey Pool

Not snickering any more

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Now we know what all the fuss was about.

When agent J.P. Barry guided Swedish free agent whiz-kid Fabian Brunnstrom on a recruiting tour of interested NHL teams last spring, the accompanying hype was considered to be, well, a bit over the top.

This, after all, was not Wayne Gretzky.

This was a youngster who had scored just nine goals in 54 games for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League; an unproven commodity at the NHL level who was still drawing serious interest from 12 teams, including the Maple Leafs.

While Barry admitted yesterday that the Leafs were in the final four of the teams bidding for his services, the Dallas Stars eventually came out as the winners of the Brunnstrom Sweepstakes.

So far, so good.

Keep this in mind: No one is attempting to label him as the next Great One. Or even the next Mats Sundin, for that matter.

Having said that, Brunnstrom has enjoyed one of the hottest starts to a career in NHL history.

A healthy scratch for the Stars' first two games, Brunnstrom tied a league record by registering a hat trick in his NHL debut last week, a 6-4 victory over Nashville. He actually scored a fourth, but the goal was waved off.

Brunnstrom, 23, added another goal in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, giving him four in his first three NHL games. Playing on a line with Brad Richards and Brendan Morrow on Saturday didn't hurt, but Brunnstrom still deserves kudos for getting out of the gate with such flair.

Barry, for one, is not surprised.

"Fabian is very skilled," he said. "There will be an adjustment to the NHL, but Dallas seems to be the perfect place for him to develop."

Barry credits Stars co-general manager Les Jackson for convincing Brunnstrom that Texas, hardly being a hot bed of hockey, was the place for him.

"Les Jackson did a remarkable job of explaining how they planned to develop Fabian this year," Barry said. "(Fabian) was an (unrestricted free agent) and had a difficult choice to make.

"The tour was necessary so he could see and meet his finalists and hear their plan for him in person."

On a Stars team that has struggled, Brunnstrom has been one of the few bright spots in the early going.

REFRESHING FRESHMEN

Brunnstrom is part of an impressive crop of NHL rookies that has taken the league by storm through the opening two weeks.

Much has been made that the top five picks in the 2008 entry draft -- centre Steven Stamkos (Lightning), defencemen Drew Doughty (Kings), Zach Bogosian (Thrashers), Alex Pietrangelo (Blues) and Luke Schenn (Leafs) -- all started the season in the NHL rather than being returned to junior. (But that still could happen before any of them make their 10th NHL appearance.)

But how about No. 6 selection Nikita Filatov, the young Russian sniper who scored in his first NHL game Friday?

The Blue Jackets have a promising crop of rookies, reaping the benefits of a cache of high draft picks that resulted from missing the playoffs on a regular basis.

Forward Derick Brassard, picked sixth overall in 2006, has two goals and two assists in five games.

Forward Jakub Voracek, taken No. 7 in the '07 draft, already has a pair of goals and an assist.

'FATSO'S' REVENGE?

The Martin Brodeur-Sean Avery feud will take centre stage when the New Jersey Devils host Avery's Stars on Wednesday night in Newark.

The encounter marks the first time the future Hall of Fame goalie will face hockey's bad boy since the playoffs last spring, when Brodeur refused to shake Avery's hand at the conclusion of the Devils-New York Rangers first-round series.

Avery, if you recall, responded to the perceived snub by referring to Brodeur as "fatso."

The goalie was livid with Avery for his shenanigans -- specifically, his jumping jacks right in front of Brodeur's face while play was going on.

Those close to him claim Brodeur, to this day, remains peeved at Avery for those tactics.

It should be fun to watch.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Count on it being a circus here in Toronto when Brian Burke brings his Anaheim Ducks to town to face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow.

Given the collective assumption throughout the city that Burke is the front-runner to take over the Leafs next season, there will be no shortage of questions fired his way.

But here's the bottom line: Burke is more concerned with the struggles of his Ducks, who were winless until posting a 4-0 victory over the rival San Jose Sharks on Friday.


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