The Fab forward

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Eight months ago Fabian Brunnstrom wore the label as "the best player not in the NHL."

And for a few days this week, he's property of the Manitoba Moose.

The Dallas Stars assigned the rookie winger to the Moose earlier this week to get him some game action after he missed a couple of weeks due to a high ankle sprain.

Brunnstrom made his Moose debut against the Rockford IceHogs last night but left the game in the second period because of the flu. His status for tonight's game is up in the air.

Moose head coach Scott Arniel said after yesterday's game-day skate that the 23-year-old possesses special skills, which Brunnstrom showed off for the first 30 minutes of last night's game before being forced to leave. He made a pair of slick moves that would have resulted in goals had Rockford netminder Antti Niemi not made superb saves.

"He's an elite player," Arniel said. "You've seen, if you watched him play in Dallas at all, he's a skilled forward that's certainly going to be a bright part of their future, a guy that's probably taking a little bit to adjust to the NHL game.

"But all that being said, he's played very, very well from what I've heard."

Brunnstrom slipped through the cracks and wasn't drafted by an NHL team, but he became a coveted commodity after recording 37 points in 54 Swedish Elite League games last winter.

The Stars signed him to a deal in May that could be worth more than $2 million per season with bonuses and he scored a hat trick in his first NHL contest, but he's cooled off since and admits the hype might have been a little over the top.

"I can say for sure I'm not the best player outside of the NHL," Brunnstrom said. "Of course it was fun with a lot of attention, but it was a little too much.

"I only played one year in the Swedish Elite League, so that was a big step for me last year, and now it's an even bigger step. But it's my dream to be here, and I just try to enjoy it."

KEEN ON KEANE: Brunnstrom may have been a hot commodity last spring, but he has nothing on the Mike Keane bobblehead doll that will be handed out tonight to the first 5,000 spectators through the doors at MTS Centre.

Even some of the IceHogs are trying to get their hands on the doll, which looks eerily similar to the real Keane (check out the video at winnipegsun.com/bobblehead).

"I've been looking for it," said Rockford defenceman Danny Groulx, who was Keane's teammate in Winnipeg last season. "Once we got here today we saw all the signs, so I definitely will get my hands on one of those. At least one, maybe two, just to make sure."

ON THE MEND: The Moose got some bad news on the injury front.

Forward Mark Cullen is out three to four weeks with a shoulder problem that is worse than originally feared, and defenceman Travis Ramsey will miss a week, maybe two, with a hamstring pull.

HOME SWEET HOME: Arniel said it's imperative for his troops to make as much hay at MTS Centre as it can over the last two and half months of the regular season.

"This is the second half of the year," he said. "Now it's time to make sure that all these points at home ... we gobble them up, because it's going to be a race all the way to the final game."

Of Manitoba's 32 remaining games, only 13 are at home.

GAPING HOLE: Last night's tilt was Moose forward Michael Grabner's final one for a while. He will leave today to help his native Austria attempt to qualify for next year's Winter Olympics.

Grabner's a tough one to lose for a couple of weeks, considering he led Manitoba with 19 goals prior to last night's contest.

"Michael's been excellent for us since he came back from his (concussion) injury (on Jan. 9)," Arniel said. "His speed is an element that really pushes the defence back and it really gets them on their heels, and then of course he's been scoring like crazy.

"We're going to miss his offence."


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