Does He Lack the Physical Tools to Compeat on an Anaheim Ducks Roster?
Outside of the attitude issues, there are some uncertainties that have arisen in Gunler’s play while making the transition from SuperElit to the SHL. The biggest issue for Bob Murray might be that Gunler seemingly does not have the physical tools to compete during every moment of each and every shift. He has shown a tendency to force bad passes to teammates or to simply leave the puck behind to avoid making contact with the opposition.
It is here that I would caution people to make hasty judgments. Remember that Gunler is an 18-year-old competing in a grown man’s league. More than that, Gunler is not particularly large himself, as he weighs in at only 176 pounds. This may be where the Ducks sports science department led by Dr. Jeremy Bettle can begin to shine. Gunler has a pedigree of physical play in the SuperElit league, and it has only seemingly disappeared since joining a league in which most of the players are likely to be bigger and stronger than he is.
As most players would know, it’s also a standard practice to hit the newcomers – particularly the skilled ones – hard. It’s very likely Gunler’s timid persona in the SHL has come, in part, due to these issues. Might they disappear if he puts on some muscle and becomes a bigger, stronger, player?
Nonetheless, Gunler’s lack of physical presence is notable given that both the AHL and the NHL are much more physical than the SHL. Perhaps, more concerning for the player himself is that NHL teams showed their hand last year in letting a high skill player in Arthur Kaliyev slide. It seems that they are willing to overlook superior skills if a player’s work ethic is questionable.
The Anaheim Ducks, of course, were in that cohort of teams and opted to go with Brayden Tracey at the tail end of the 1st round. A fine choice in its own right, yet perhaps not as strong statistically as Kaliyev. Given that Bob Murray has, in the past, criticized one of his former 30 goal-scoring players for not backchecking twice before scoring (slight hyperbole), it could be a steep hill for Gunler to climb.
The Work That Has to Be Done
It’s likely Gunler’s physique is a mitigating factor in much of the “negative” things which can be said about him. For instance, while Gunler has excellent top-end speed, his acceleration could use quite a lot of work. It’s not to say that Gunler is a poor skater, because he isn’t. He just isn’t elite and still has a lot of work to put into it to get to that level. Increasing lower limb strength and power would pay dividends for increasing his acceleration in the first two strides.
Conversely, Gunler should be wary of changing his current skating form overly much. Currently, he has a wide, somewhat awkward-looking, stride, that while looking somewhat all over the place, still allows him to change direction well and reach that above average top speed. Perhaps most importantly, however, it seems to sneak up on defencemen.
Even at the SHL level, defencemen seem reluctant to close the gap and stick to him when he enters the offensive zone. As a result, he appears to do so almost at will. Whether the same result would be replicated in the NHL remains to be seen, however, it’s all too common to see players focus on changing something that quite frankly doesn’t need changing. A professional skating coach may work wonders, yet it may be that only small changes are required.
A further point that bears mentioning is that Gunler is rarely on the ice late during late-game scenarios, nor is he trusted to kill penalties. Although this latter point could be said of many, if not all, young players in professional hockey. Coaches are loath to let the youth learn those skills on the job when winning games is at a premium. In this, it’s possible that his elevation to the SHL is more of a hindrance than a boon.
Certainly, Gunler will make his money on the offensive end of the ice, rather than the defensive. He definitely had very little to prove there. However, the SHL, like most professional leagues, demands a complete package. They are not a training ground for new skill sets to blossom. However, the Ducks are no strangers to drafting out of the SHL, and in fact, Isac Lundestrom played for the same SHL team, so they’ll know what they’re getting.