He has nine points in 13 games and was on a six-game point streak from Jan. 22 to Feb. 2.
But Brunner has still found a way to contribute.
He has a great set of hands, excellent speed, and has adapted nicely to the physical NHL style of play.
However, I don't like how the Red Wings use him as a fourth forward on the power play.
Case in point in the game against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, Feb. 1. The Red Wings were dominating the first period with a 2-0 lead and held the Blues to two shots with about 5 minutes remaining in the opening period.
Detroit went on the power play late in the first looking to put a stranglehold on the game. Pavel Datsyuk had the puck behind the goal line and attempted to pass it up the boards to Brunner at the point.
T.J. Oshie intercepted the pass at the top of the circle, chipped the puck past Brunner, and started a 2-on-1 break that eventually led to a shorthanded goal by Patrick Berglund. That shorthanded goal deflated the Red Wings as they only had seven shots in the next three periods, including overtime. Before the goal, the Red Wings were outshooting the Blues 7-2.
Brunner got caught in a situation a defenseman has to deal with numerous times throughout a game: Does he pinch in an attempt to keep the puck in the attacking zone to generate more offense, or does he fall back to not allow an odd-man rush?
Brunner, being the offensive-minded forward that he is, selected the former and got burned.
This is the bad thing about using a fourth forward on the power play. You put him in situations in which he is not used to dealing with, and it could cost his team a goal.
This isn't the first time Brunner has been on the ice for a shorthanded goal. On Feb. 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mark Letestu hit Brandon Dubinsky on a breakout pass that beat Niklas Kronwall.
As Brunner was backing up in his defensive zone, he appeared to be conflicted about taking Dubinsky or taking away the pass. He did neither as Dubinsky hit a streaking Letestu, who put the puck between Jimmy Howard's legs to give the Blue Jackets a 4-1 lead.
I will give Brunner partial credit on this one. He anticipated Kronwall getting caught standing still and started to back up to alleviate a breakaway opportunity.
Brunner is not a defenseman; he is a forward. He can move the puck well, but there is a difference between moving the puck well in the offensive zone and moving the puck well at the point.
When quarterbacking a power play, you need to make quick, smart decisions with and without the puck. You and your defensive partner are the last line of defense. If you turn over the puck or let your man get past you, it will turn into an odd-man rush if not a breakaway.
I understand the Red Wings' biggest hole is on defense, but I would rather see Kyle Quincey or Jonathan Ericsson -- possibly Brendan Smith when he returns from injury -- at the point than Brunner (Ian White and Jakub Kindl are on the second power-play unit).
I'm not saying take Brunner off the power play completely; he is way too skilled to be taken off the power play. I'd rather see the Red Wings use his speed to cycle the puck with the likes of Zetterberg and Datsyuk to create mismatches.
How they are using Brunner right now isn't working. The Red Wings are tied for 24th in the NHL in power-play percentage at 16.8 percent.
Brunner can contribute on the power play, but he is better served doing it down low rather than at the point.
Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who has followed the Red Wings and the NHL since the 1993-94 season. He is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_mitsos.
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