Brunette's return a bright spot

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

Without Andrew Brunette in the lineup, the Minnesota Wild would really be in a lot of trouble.

The Wild have stumbled out of the gate this season, having won just one of their first five games heading into their contest against the Edmonton Oilers last night at Rexall Place.

Brunette, however, is off to one of the best starts of his career with four goals and a pair of assists. He's registered a point in each of the Wild's first five games going into last night.

TEAM LEADER

"Andrew, for me coming in, was just like a lot of our players, I was just learning his game," said the Wild's rookie head coach Todd Richards. "I was getting to know him as a person. But he's a leader for us on this team. He's a leader out on the ice and he's a leader in the locker-room.

"The one thing I've learned just by watching him play, is that he's very good in the tight areas of the ice. He'll win a lot of those one-on-one battles along the boards and especially out in front. He's done a great job for us."

A 14-year NHL veteran, Brunette, 36, was signed by the Wild as a free agent prior to the start of last season. This is his second stint with the Wild, having played in Minnesota for three seasons before moving on to play with the Colorado Avalanche.

This off-season, the native of Sudbury, Ont., had knee surgery which set him back a little during training camp, but has not seemingly affected him early in the year.

"Right now my knee feels good," Brunette said. "It was kind of a long process, but it feels 100%. There were bumps along the way. I missed part of training camp and there were some parts where it wasn't quite right.

"But I think each and every day skating with it, I'm starting to get used to it. It kind of messed up the other side of my body early on, but I feel better every day."

As is often the case with knee injuries, the biggest hurdles to overcome can be mental. Trusting the knee will be as strong as it was before surgery can often be an issue.

"I never really put a whole lot of thought into it which is maybe a good thing," Brunette said. "It's not like I lost a step, because I never had one to begin with, so it was a pretty easy transition."

A year ago, Brunette scored 22 goals and added 28 assists for the Wild. It was the fifth time in his career that he was able to surpass the 20-goal plateau.

Brunette's best season came with the Avalanche when he registered 27 goals and added 56 assists for 83 points in 2006-07.

Unfortunately for the Wild, the six-foot-one, 210-lb. winger is one of the only players who is scoring for them on a consistent basis this season. He and Eric Belanger have accounted for half the team's goals so far.

"I think as a team we haven't played as well as we've liked to," Brunette said. "I think we've played well at times, I just think we've made some costly mistakes. When that happens, it makes it tough and moving forward, we just have to kind of limit those and get better.

"In the Western Conference, it's tough to get a playoff spot and for us, we have to stop the slide."

Having known only one system of play under Jacques Lemaire, the Wild are currently a team in transition, trying to go from a passive, defensive-first club to one that forechecks harder and tries to dictate the tempo of the game.

NEW CONCEPT

At the moment, it's still a work in progress.

"I think there is a little bit of a transition for all of us, especially the guys that have been here for a long time with Jacques," Brunette said.

"Some of things we did, it's hard to get out of the brain all the time, but it's a process. I think bit by bit, we're getting a little bit better and by repetition, we'll eventually be better."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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