Stars rookie Brunnstrom sets out on learning curve

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

If dressing-room stability was a reason Fabian Brunnstrom chose the Dallas Stars ahead of the Maple Leafs, he was in for a shock.

Rather than be a harmonious team in Stanley Cup contention, the Stars have spent the first part of their season trying to avoid the cellar and keep their act together, a task made much harder by the Sean Avery circus.

But Brunnstrom, a dark- horse free-agent winger who had several NHL teams -- including the Leafs -- pursuing him during the summer, is still high on Texas. The 23-year-old came into prominence with Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League in 2007-008, with a couple of highlight-reel goals that generated YouTube traffic.

The lure of the rebuilding Leafs was that they could offer him an immediate spot in the lineup, whereas stacked clubs such as Detroit might farm him out for the year.

The Leafs and Stars are separated by just one point after last night's Dallas win.

Brunnstrom, meanwhile, survived a season-opening benching with his confidence intact.

He debuted with a hat trick in his first NHL game against Nashville and, though he scored only six in 28 games after that, he has done his part in the Stars' modest improvement since the American Thanksgiving -- 7-4-1 with Avery now out of the picture.

"It has been up and down," Brunnstrom said yesterday.

"I knew it would be tough coming over here, that this is the best league in the world. We're struggling as a team and that has made it tough, but I'm really glad to be here."

No slight to Toronto and the Leafs, but Brunnstrom rated them fourth on his priority list after visiting heavy hitters Dallas, Detroit and Montreal.

"He's still learning a lot of the NHL and North American style hockey," teammate Brad Richards said. "That's a process. He's never had an NHL training camp. Kids younger than him, 18, 19-years-old, get to come over and get a taste. It's a big learning curve, but there are signs he's turning the corner.

"With the injuries we've had, we need him to step up."


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