2020 NHL Draft: Noel Gunler

Noel Gunler

RW, Lulea HF (SHL)

6’2″/174 lbs, 17.94 years


Strengths:

40 goal upside, extremely talented scorer:

  • Gunler could be the best scorer out of this draft. He has a devastating shot, with a quick release and explosive weight transfer. His shot is very powerful with pinpoint accuracy– a challenging weapon for goalies to go up against.
  • I’ve seen his shooting style compared to both Elias Petterson and Patrik Laine, two players who scored at respective 33 and 34 goal paces this season.
  • Highly versatile scorer with a variety of shots in his arsenal. Can unleash lasers from the top of the circle, snipe while wheeling down the wing at full speed, or finish from right in around the crease on both his forehand and backhand.
  • Terrific offensive instincts, loves to attack the middle before letting his shots go. No fear of the crease, and at 6’2″, 174 lbs he can hold his own physically. With additional strength, he should become even better in that area.

Above-average top speed:

  • Gunler has a long stride with a fair amount of power. Accelerates through quick crossovers and moves side-to-side relatively well.
  • Technically sound skater in most aspects: exhibits good knee bend and shoulder-knee-toe alignment. No notable hitches in his stride. Should add speed with additional leg strength.

Capable playmaker, dual-threat offensive profile:

  • Can use the threat of his shot to create passing lanes. Defenders play him tight to take away the shooting option, leaving his linemates open. He’s comfortable enough as a playmaker to identify that option and move the puck with a defender right on him.
  • Thinks the game well and can see the play developing in front of him. Can identify teammates cutting to the net and deliver precise shot-passes for deflections.

Pressures puck and can force turnovers:

  • Seems like Gunler has gotten a rep as a player that is lazy without the puck, but that really isn’t the case. Two of his four SHL goals came after he forced an opposing defender to cough the puck up to him: one at Gunler’s own blueline, and one in front of the opposition’s net. Another of his tallies was a result of him going right by two opposing players in a race for a puck, and one of his nine assists came after a forced turnover on the forecheck again. Certainly doesn’t sound lazy or unengaged to me: in fact, a large source of his SHL offence this year was a result of a high-pressure, high-tempo style.

Weaknesses:

Can be streaky and inconsistent:

  • Gunler would go quiet for stretches at the SHL level, an issue that’s been well-documented by his detractors on Twitter. I don’t see that as much of an issue: the winger was playing ten minutes per game against much older competition in a defensive role. How realistic is it to expect him to pop out on a consistent basis considering the context?

Somewhat upright stride, not overly explosive:

  • Gunler has an upright stride that can compromise his explosiveness as a skater. He isn’t a bad skater by any means, but he isn’t always going to create separation from good skaters. It’s difficult to get a sense for a player’s offensive style when they’re playing defensive minutes against professional competition in the SHL, but I’m not sure Gunler will be a consistent high-end rush threat or transitional asset at the NHL level without additional explosiveness.

Older side of the draft class:

  • As a late 2001 birthdate, Gunler is older than most in this draft class and has the benefit of an additional year of development. The Swede played the majority of his 2017-18 in the U20 SuperElit while Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz were still largely in the U18 circuit (playing only 8 and 11 U20 games that year respectively).

The Numbers:

AgeGPPTSPTS/GPP1/GP
17.9445130.290.20

Gunler did very well in a limited role for Lulea, the best team in the SHL. Considering that he averaged less than 10 minutes per game, typically bouncing around the between the fourth line and thirteenth forward slot, 13 points in 45 games for the club is quite excellent. All 13 of his points came at even strength, working out to 1.77 points per sixty minutes of ice time. He was also an excellent possession player, controlling 70% of the goal share and nearly 54% of shot attempts while on the ice. That’s exactly what you want to see from a player his age in the role that he played: Gunler produced well considering the minutes (and defensive orientation of those minutes) that he received and positively impacted the on-ice results of his team. And he did all that at just 18 years old in the third best league in the world. That’s impressive.

Thanks to TPN’s very own Finlay Sherratt, we have more than just basic box-cars to examine. Below is a seven game sample of Gunler’s microstatistics in the Swedish Hockey League, handtracked by Finlay. You can read his article on the standouts and letdowns of his European tracking project here.

 

Gunler has above-average passing metrics and a strong possession impact (as we touched on with full-season data above), but he’s rather weak in transition. He struggled to exit his own zone as well as enter the attacking third without dumping the puck in or surrendering possession. This is a likely consequence of his limited explosiveness: without the consistent ability to separate himself from opposing backcheckers or push defenders back with speed upon the zone entry, it can be difficult for a player to create space to operate. The less space a player has in transition, the higher the probability for a poor outcome like an uncontrolled entry or turnover.

Summary

Gunler is an exceptional scorer whose ability to bury the puck will always be his calling card. The SHL isn’t a place where 18 year olds generally get the opportunity to demonstrate their scoring prowess– even Alexander Holtz only scored 9 goals in a much more offensive role for Djugardens– but Gunler did have plenty of chance to show off his scoring in the SuperElit, where he put up 27 goals in 31 games last season and 4 goals in 4 games here in 2019-20. I see legitimate 40 goal upside with Gunler: he has a strong argument for the best release in the draft, he’s shown a refined ability to find space in high-danger areas even against SHL competition, and he has a real versatility to his scoring game that should make him tiresome to defend even at the NHL level.

I like Gunler plenty, but I do think it’s reasonable to question Gunler’s non-scoring game. He’s a proficient playmaker as a second option, but that element of his game probably won’t get a ton of mileage as he exhibits much more of a shoot-first tendency. He doesn’t project to be able to drive play through transition either– he didn’t exbibit the quickness to bring the puck through the neutral zone with possession and make plays off zone entries on a consistent basis, but I wouldn’t count that out as an element that he can develop with increased leg strength and comfort against professional competition.

Regarding his speculated attitude issues, it’s been reported by Patrik Bexell that it seems as though there’s a person with some sort of grudge against Gunler that’s been spreading these negative rumours and that it shouldn’t be any sort of real concern around his game. From Patrik: “If that was a North American player you would say he’s got character, he’s got a winning mentality, you know he’s focused.” TPN’s Tobias Petterson has heard similar.

We like Gunler more than most here at The Prospect Network, ranking him 9th overall on our January list. I don’t feel that he is deserving of much of the criticism that he gets: he was somewhat inconsistent in his game-by-game impact, but I’m not sure it’s fair to expect much more out of a player his age in a league of the SHL’s quality. All players are streaky to some extent; a player’s net impact over all the games they participate in is what ultimately matters. Gunler demonstrated the ability to be a positive-impact player at even strength in the world’s third-best league at just 18 years old. That isn’t easy to do. If he can carry over that positive on-ice influence and improve his production given more freedom in an offensive role at the NHL level while also adding high-tier powerplay value (that’s something he didn’t have any opportunity at all to show in the SHL), he could be a top-six winger of real benefit to whatever team drafts him.

Featured Photo Credit: Bildbyrån

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