The Hurricanes have shown a trend of using draft picks on high risk, high reward players, and Swedish winger Noel Gunler is no exception. Gunler was projected to go in the late first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, but concerns about his consistency and overall maturity caused him to slip down the draft board. If he manages to overcome those concerns, though, Gunler could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
The first thing you’ll notice about Gunler’s game is his shot. The shot is quick and accurate, giving opposing players little time to react to him. Even at times where his shot is easy to read, his puck placement is so dead-on that goalies struggle to stop him. He’s dangerous from all areas of the ice and doesn’t overly rely on any one type of shot to find success.
Noel Gunler PP— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 21, 2020
5-1 Brynas pic.twitter.com/qB6ZMBW3e5
Gunler’s shot has been compared to fellow Swede Alexander Holtz, who was selected seventh overall in this year’s draft. Holtz may have the more complete game at this stage in his development, but with increased opportunities in the SHL, Gunler has the potential to work out any issues in his game long before he heads to North America.
Gunler also does well in terms of playmaking, both in knowing where his teammates are going to be on the ice and in finding open ice for himself. He reads plays well, making choices in terms of breakouts and zone entries that are always a step ahead of other players his age.
Gunler came up as a teenager through Luleå’s development system, where he really came into his own at the U20 level. He got his first taste of the SHL in the 2018-19 season, holding his own among men for 15 games. His ice time had consistently been limited with Luleå in the SHL, however, never breaking ten minutes of average time on ice over any of the three seasons where he played in the SHL. Some of Gunler’s developmental struggles could be attributed to the lack of exposure to meaningful minutes at the professional level.
In November, Gunler was traded to Brynas and immediately saw his ice time increase. He went from an average of 7:12 over ten games with Luleå to 13:23 in eight games with Brynas. Gunler was also selected for Sweden’s World Juniors roster after being passed over last year. He’s expected to play a top-six role for Sweden in the competition, which will be the first time Hurricanes fans will be able to easily see him in action.
Noel Gunler with a power play rip for his 14th pro goal and 30th pro point. He turned 19 in October and has averaged less than 10 mins a game across his 89 games. pic.twitter.com/fo8NtTqduh— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 5, 2020
Like many young players, some issues around attitude, consistency, and commitment to defense have followed Gunler throughout the past two years. The attitude issues seem to have been blown out of proportion, however, and Gunler is probably unfairly dogged by the matter. Consistency is another trait that will come with age and experience; he’s not the first young player to need some time to learn that he can’t cheat on a play or take a shift off. And while he may not ever develop into a strong two-way player, his offense could do much to make that less of a concern.
His game as it stands now isn’t suited to a more defense-heavy, checking role, so a role on a more offense-oriented line would need to open up for him to be best positioned for success. With proper development and increased opportunities to improve his game, Gunler could develop into a middle-six forward in the NHL, potentially with the ability to play up in the lineup when necessary.