Somewhere between Farjestad and Front St., the legend of Fabian Brunnstrom has been super-sized.
In fact, within 24 hours of Sun Media reporting renewed interest by the Maple Leafs in signing the free-agent winger, vital stats being quoted on this side of the Atlantic by a Leafs official added one inch in height and 15 extra pounds to the 23-year-old's Swedish League growth chart of 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
And this being playoff-starved Toronto, where any decent newcomer gets automatic exalted status, the talk shows were fired up yesterday at a possible top-six forward landing in the Leafs' lap after a deal with the Vancouver Canucks was derailed by the Dave Nonis firing.
But don't rush out and buy a blue and white No. 96 (his number with Farjestad) just yet. Brunnstrom and his agent, J.P. Barry, are in contact with the Leafs but are said to be at least a week away from deciding between three or four NHL suitors.
Some in Europe are wondering what all the fuss is about. One keen observer of the Swedish League describing Brunnstrom as "over-rated," while others wonder about his exclusion from the Swedish national team and his one point in 12 playoff games after nine goals and 28 assists in 54 regular season Elitserien matches.
Call it the Brunnstrom Backlash after a feel-good season where he was fifth in team scoring after making a jump from two levels below the elite league. The Detroit Red Wings, one of the teams on his short list, have told Barry that Brunnstrom might have to wait his turn in Grand Rapids, thus the attraction of the Leafs, who likely would fast-track his development.
"We're trying to convince him it's a good place to play," assistant general manager Jeff Jackson told AM 640 radio yesterday. "The time frame is being dictated by his desire to come over."
Brunnstrom could be joining a Leafs team brimming with young Swedes such as Alex Steen, Anton Stralman and Staffan Kronwall and if Mats Sundin were to return, it would more than make up for Brunnstrom's missed chance to play with the Sedin twins on the west coast.
But during an interview with The Hockey News earlier this year, Farjestad GM and ex-NHLer Hakan Loob warned against rushing Brunnstrom.
"If the (NHL) treat him the right way, I think he's got a good future ahead of him," Loob said. "But if he's thrown in too soon, he might not do anything."
Brunnstrom wasn't on the radar in his draft year, but filled out in his early 20s.
A tantalizing YouTube highlight clip of his goals and picture passes on the big ice has circulated, but the Leafs aren't the only ones with European scouts and access to computers. Jackson acknowledged there is not a great difference in the type of contract each team is dangling, but the carrot of NHL playing time can be hard to resist.
In listing Brunnstrom at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Jackson said Brunnstrom was physically ready to make the jump to the NHL and compared him to Steve Larmer.
"I think of Steve in the way helooks, skates and controls the puck along the boards," Jackson said. "Steve was never flashy."
The Swedish NHLer which Brunnstrom often is compared to is Daniel Alfredsson, a player many GMs passed on until he was 21.
Jackson suggested Brunnstrom's exclusion from the Swedes' world championship entry next month had something to do with established veterans and NHLers being offered first crack at the roster.