As summer dragged on and the NHL's free agency period quieted, one name remained on the market that was sort of a surprise to most. Damien Brunner had a successful first season in North America netting 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games with the Detroit Red Wings.
When the season ended, negotiations with the Red Wings went nowhere, with Brunner reportedly seeking a multi-year deal for $3.5 million a season. Two months later, the 27-year old Swiss native joined the New Jersey Devils on a tryout. A week later, he agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal in what could be one of the bargains of the off-season.
On Saturday night during a 3-0 preseason win over the New York Islanders, Brunner assisted on two of New Jersey's three goals. It was his second game with the Devils, but the first where he felt right. Despite coming into camp late, he meshed well on a line with Jacob Josefson and Patrik Elias.
"The first game was tough from the jet lag to adjust right away," he said. "We had tons of power plays, so not [many] breathers in the first game, so it was good. Good game rhythm, got the legs going. The line was working good. We had good communication on the ice and created some chances in the O-zone."
Maybe his demands were too much for some teams, like the Red Wings, but his scoring ability and quickness were attributes that the Devils liked, with the end result being a quick contract negotiation.
"He's got instant speed and it creates a lot of offense, backs teams off," said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. "I've been impressed with him."
After talks with the Red Wings fell through, Brunner and his agent spoke with other teams, but negotiations didn't end up being fruitful. He said his number one goal was to remain in the NHL, and even as the summer dragged on and training camp approached he wasn't ready to start making alternate plans just yet if nothing developed over here.
"My thoughts playing in other leagues would have probably started October 1st," he said. "I was planning to come over and I was happy to get the chance in Jersey."
After years playing in Switzerland, Brunner finally took the chance last season to come play in the NHL. He didn't have the hype of a prospect with a strong junior national team career and it wasn't until the 2008-09 season with Zug, where he was coached by former NHLer Doug Shedden, that things started to turn in the right direction.
In 201 games with Zug, Brunner posted 103 goals and 247 points. Brunner credits his success to his former coach.
"[R]ight from the first two weeks he pushed me in the direction that my mindset has to be to play in the NHL," Brunner said. "I tried to be as consistent as I could be in the Swiss League and play on a high level every night. I did that over four-and-a-half years for Shedden and then when the time was right I thought I'd give it a shot and come over. I'm happy that it turned out well last year with Detroit."
After Shedden's influence and a year under Mike Babcock in Detroit playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg, the Devils are hoping that Brunner's stock is still on its way up.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy