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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Noel Gunler has a lot of promise as a middle-six scorer

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The winger plays a smart offensive game, but his physical abilities are under scrutiny.

Lausanne HC v Lulea HF - Champions Hockey League Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

The rumours regarding Noel Gunler’s attitude issues are quashed even before I bring up the subject with Sweden’s coach for the Under-20s, Tomas Montén. “There wasn’t space for him on the top two lines in the Swedish team, and you want a player like Gunler to play in regards to his strength, not in a shutdown role further down the lineup. We had two young players already and we were expecting reinforcements from North America, and that made Gunler’s role uncertain.”

Birthplace: Luleå, Sweden
Date of birth: October 7, 2001
Shoots: Right
Position: Right/Left Wing
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: Luleå HF (SHL)

I have also heard people within the Luleå locker room say that Gunler “hasn’t had any attitude problems with the SHL team.” On the contrary, they point out his willingness to work and play where the coach wants him. It seems that most of the rumours regarding Gunler are mere speculation. The temper he flashed when he pushed a linesman in a scrum is a thing of the past, and it seems to me that he learned from the incident and can channel that temper within his play rather than taking it out on the officials and opponents.

Elite Prospects

Gunler is an intriguing prospect. His goal-scoring ability is among the top of this draft class. He reads the game well and gets to the open areas with regularity, especially when he played with the under-20 squad. In the SHL he struggled a bit, partly due to moving up and down the lineup and the hit to his confidence that brought.

Still, Gunler trailed Alexander Holtz by just three points at the end of the season. While Gunler played more games, Holtz had the coaches’ trust, playing higher up in the lineup and getting more opportunities on the power play as well. The two Swedish goal-scorers will most likely push each other in the opening months of the 2020-21 SHL season (which is set to open as normal, with or without people in the stands).

Strengths

Gunler’s shot is his biggest strength. It is fast, has a quick release, and is devastatingly accurate. His shot location is good, too, mostly coming down to the fact that he reads the game well and can anticipate where the puck will be, getting there ahead of time.

Where his hockey IQ really stood out last season was in the U20s. He didn’t only use his shot to good effect, but whenever the opposing team went hard at him, sometimes even with multiple players, Gunler made a play to an open teammate instead of trying to do everything himself. It remains to be seen if he can use the same skills at a higher level.

Weaknesses

His skating is a work in progress. The fact that it improved during his time in the SHL means that his work ethic is there and that he can progress even when participating in a pro league. He needs to become more explosive and get power into the skates to really become a force, especially on the smaller rinks in North America. He is still playing in a youth’s body, but with good exercise and training things should develop nicely.

His physicality is a bit if a question mark. It comes down to a few different things, and in some ways it is all related to his hockey sense. Because he reads the game well, he is good on the forecheck — not physically but rather in steering the play and forcing the puck into different areas. He sometimes takes a step back and lets the opponent take the puck, only to work with his stick to try to regain control that way rather than throw a big hit. This lends to impressions that he might be lazy, take some shifts off, etc., but most of it is down to him being a calculating player who tries other things than making that energizing big hit.

That said, it does seem that Gunler needs to grow into a man’s body and learn to play with more physicality when the situation warrants it. Working on his skating should benefit his physical play as well, as his balance on his skates should improve to help him engage his body more.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #22
Future Considerations: #18
Hockey Prospect: #17
McKeen’s Hockey: #19
McKenzie/TSN: #10
NHL Central Scouting: #9 (European skaters)

Discussion

In a class full of talented goal-scorers, Gunler is a bit of a wild card. His upside is clear to everyone who watches one of his games. The reason that his rankings are a bit up and down is the different interpretations of his physical game, combined with his perceived poor attitude.

I currently don’t see the Montreal Canadiens drafting Gunler at number nine (if that’s where they end up in the 2020 NHL Draft), however if he starts hot in the SHL when the season begins in September, he might be one of the last-minute risers in the draft. The team that selects him will get a goal-scorer who should be able to play in a middle-six role with a strong offensive upside. It will be down to his physical development whether he becomes an even better player.