For a team that loves Swedish defensemen, the Minnesota Wild are dangerously close to letting Daniel Gunnarsson slip through the cracks. With the National Hockey League’s deadline to sign 2012 draft picks set for Sunday, the Wild has until then to sign him.
A big Swedish blue liner at 6’4″ 205-pounds, Gunnarsson was selected by the club with the 128th overall pick in the 2012 draft as one of three right-shot defensemen taken in seven picks by the club that year (the others being seventh overall pick Mathew Dumba and 68th overall pick John Draeger). With a plethora of left-shot defensemen within the organization, it was clear Wild GM Chuck Fletcher needed to balance things out with some right-shooting skaters, as well. Dumba obviously fit a need for a future potential franchise top-2 defenseman, while Draeger was looked at as a long-term project that would need time to grow and develop within the collegiate and minor league ranks.
Gunnarsson, on the other hand, had already been playing professional hockey with Lulea of the Swedish Elite League–a team already being watched by the Wild brass in the process of monitoring the development of goalie prospect Johan Gustafsson. In his draft year, Gunnarsson had three goals and four assists for seven points and a plus-6 rating in 46 games in his first full professional season. After being selected by the Wild, he played the next two seasons with Lulea, scoring nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points and a plus-7 rating in 103 games. In addition, he was consistently among Lulea’s leaders in scoring from the blue line.
According to EliteProspects.com, Gunnarsson is described as:
Gunnarsson is a big and pretty strong defenseman with impressive mobility and a good two-way game. Plays a pretty solid and simple game in his own end and has good offensive skills too. Has a very good shot. (EP 2011)
There’s a lot to like about this kid. He’s big–something highly valued by Fletcher and Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr–he has a lot of experience playing against grown men, he’s a right-shot and plays a sound defensive game. Plus, he’s Swedish, and Minnesota already has a crop of young Swedish defenders in Jonas Brodin, Gustav Olofsson and Christian Folin–a group that makes 29 other GM’s in the league dissolve into a puddle of drool.
Signing Gunnarsson only makes that group that much more appealing. However, is there room for him and will he sign?
The Koping, Sweden native has agreed to a new deal with Brodin’s old SEL team in Farjestad for next season, though that doesn’t mean he can’t still be signed by Minnesota. The problem is that there’s hardly any room as it is. There’s maybe one spot available in St. Paul next season, though that’ll likely be filled either by Folin or potentially a free agent signing. In addition, Olofsson and Dumba are all but guaranteed to be among Iowa’s top-4 blue liners when they turn pro next season, and could be joined by Jonathon Blum, a talented right-shot who I personally imagine would be hard for Fletcher to let go of easily in free agency.
The probable departures of Iowa defensemen Tyler Cuma, Kyle Medvec, John Landry and Josh Caron could weigh in Gunnarsson’s favor, however. That would leave a defensive corps that could look a little something like this:
Blum/Steven Kampfer - Kampfer/Blum/Folin
Olofsson – Dumba/Folin
Colton Jobke/Dumba – Gunnarsson
In the end, if Gunnarsson is willing to sign with Minnesota (and Minnesota is willing to sign him) there’s no reason why this can’t work. If not, he’ll re-enter the draft for another crack at the NHL dream with another team. We’ll know more Sunday.