Prospect Report: Noel Gunler
Noel Gunler is one of my personal favorites when it comes to this draft. The 6’2, 176 pound Lulea, Sweden native has been on the 2020 radar for quite some time now. Gunler’s D-1 season was one of the most dominant in recent memory, as he scored 27 goals and assisted on 19 more for 46 points in 31 SuperElit games. Scoring at almost a goal per game in Sweden’s top junior league is a serious achievement, and doing it as a 17 year old is even more impressive. Gunler’s dominant performance in the junior ranks earned him a 15 game stint with Lulea’s SHL team, and it went like this:
He finished with 5 points in those 15 games (playing a whopping 7:37 per game), and was the MVP of just his 2nd professional hockey game ever. He looked like a legit SHL player, but there were definitely some issues that needed to be addressed with his game, such as his lackadaisical passing. Gunler would make the right pass almost always, but sometimes it came either too soft, or too close to defenders’ sticks. This led to a lot of his passes being disrupted, but not necessarily because they were the wrong play. On the flip side, there were also quite a few times where he would send bullets straight to his teammate’s tape. He just needed to work on the consistency a bit, and he’s been a lot better this season in that regard.
Gunler played the vast majority of this season in the SHL, where he scored 4 goals and 9 assists for 13 points in 45 games. He suited up in 4 SuperElit games as well, scoring another 4 goals and finishing with 6 points total. Gunler’s SHL utilization was far from ideal again this season, as he averaged just under 10 minutes a game. He did get some opportunity in the top 6 later in the season, and was given limited time at special teams. I really wish he had gotten the chance to play more, as he’s truly a special player to watch.
I don’t really want to go too in depth on the many narratives surrounding Gunler’s potential attitude issues. I’ve never met Noel personally, and I also haven’t spoken with anyone who knows him well, therefore I’m not qualified to comment on the topic. I will say that I thought it was a huge mistake for Sweden to omit him from their international rosters this season. There’s so many variables to consider when building a team, both on ice and off, so there very well could be a legit reason that they didn’t take him. But from an objective hockey standpoint, it didn’t make any sense.
When it comes to Gunler’s game, there’s nothing that he doesn’t excel at. He’s a near elite skater, with a nimble stride and breakaway level speed. Gunler doesn’t move East/West quite as well as some of his peers, but he can fly up and down the ice:
When Gunler’s motor is going at top velocity, he’s a machine on both sides of the puck. In the defensive zone, he buzzes around, harassing the puck carrier with jabs and poke checks. He attacks the puck so well, and does an incredible job of disrupting play. Just look how intense he is on the puck:
He’s also one of the best forecheckers in the entire draft, quite a few of his points this season came off the forecheck. Gunler barrels into the zone at top speed, and has the hand-eye coordination to knock passes out of the air, and the ability to straight up steal the puck off of someone’s stick:
He’s also willing to pin the puck against the boards, doing anything he can to prevent the opposition from breaking it out. Even if he’s behind the play, he’ll work hard to catch up and create a turnover.
When it comes to offense, Gunler’s shot can rival anyone else’s in this draft class. He’s the definition of a sniper, with unbelievable accuracy, and a versatile shot/release combination. He can shoot off the rush, with the puck in awkward positions, and owns a heavy and accurate one timer as well. His wrist shot release is his best weapon, and he showed it off quite often this year:
He’s also great at creating his own time and space for shots, and loves to cut to the dangerous parts of the ice. Gunler has no problem taking the puck from the boards into the slot when he wants to generate a shot:
He burns that checker so fast along the boards, and is able to get a great shot off before anyone can even react. It’s saved, but he picks up a secondary assist when the rebound is deposited. Little plays like these are the ones that get me excited about Gunler’s potential, as players who can create their own shots have a far more likely chance of succeeding in the NHL.
His vision doesn’t stop with shot creation though, Gunler is a very underrated playmaker as well. His hands are elite, and he thinks the game at a very high level. He’s able to see the ice and recognize opportunities for teammates along with himself, which just makes him more dynamic. Gunler’s aforementioned passing is highly improved this year, and he was one of the best playmakers on his team. Just check out the way he was able to set his teammates up this season:
This next clip shows how special of a player Gunler can be:
He’s behind the play, but still pressures the puck carrier, with his stick. Once the puck is turned over, he makes that little one touch pass without hesitation. That’s high level stuff.
There are still some inconsistencies when it comes to the speed of his game though, which can be frustrating to watch sometimes. When his motor is going, he’s one of the most effective 200 foot prospects I’ve ever seen. When it’s not, he can disappear for stretches of time. His entire game, aside from his power play shooting, depends on speed. His defensive zone play, transition play, and forechecking abilities are all hindered when he’s not playing fast. Sure, he’s still great with the puck, but those other elements are what make him better than most of the other players in this draft. When his speed isn’t up to standard, Gunler doesn’t really look like a top 10 pick. It makes sense why he’s such a divisive topic amongst scouts. Two scouts can watch 5 of his games at random, and come away with completely different conclusions.
I’m of the opinion that Gunler’s going to have no problem improving his consistency. If his passing and forechecking improvement over the last year are any indication, then there’s much more to come from him.