BLOG: 2020 eligible Noel Gunler making a name for himself
Greetings and welcome back to the blog!
I’ve already written quite a bit about two of Sweden’s most promising prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. Today I want to take a closer look at the third player of Sweden’s “Big 3” for the 2020 NHL Draft – Noel Gunler.
Gunler, born October 7th 2001, is one of the oldest players first time eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft and he has already played one full season in J20 SuperElit prior to this one. He has not received as much attention and hype as Holtz and Raymond but his way to be considered a potential top pick of the 2020 NHL Draft has been quite straight if we go by the last two seasons before this one.
Gunler was Norrbotten’s top goalscorer in the popular national tournament TV-Pucken in 2015/2016 with his four goals in six games and he placed second in team scoring with his five points while mostly playing with and against players born in 2000. The year after Gunler was one of TV-Pucken’s best players, he scored eight goals and added another five assists to win team scoring with 13 points in 6 games, eight more points than any other player on his team. He tied for 4th in scoring in the tournament, only five points behind the leader Lucas Feuk, despite only playing 6 games, compared to 11 games played for the players that finished ahead of him. Gunler’s eight goals were only surpassed by Feuk’s 13 goals.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) November 3, 2016
During the same season Gunler finished 1st in points among U16 players in J18 Elit North with 28 points (eight goals and 20 assists) in 14 games and was 2nd in scoring on Luleå’s J18-team, only three points behind Lucas Jidenius (-99 born). Gunler’s 2.00 PPG was the highest of any player that finished top25 in scoring in J18 Elit North, well ahead of Jidenius’s 1.83 that was the 2nd highest. Luleå qualified for J18 Allsvenskan’s northern division and Gunler finished 2nd in team scoring with 17 points (seven goals and 10 assits) in 18 games behind Oliver Shack Blomstedt (-99 born), 10th overall in scoring and 2nd overall for U17 players (as a U16 player) behind Brynäs defenseman Victor Söderström.
At this point Gunler had already started to get some attention, but during the 2017/2018 season he took big steps in his development and played his way on to Luleå’s J20 SuperElit team, as a U17-player. He finished 4th in team scoring in J20 SuperElit North as Luleå qualified for the Top10-series. As expected Gunler’s production fell of slightly in the Top10, it is the highest level of junior hockey in Sweden after all, and he finished with seven points (three goals and four assists) in 18 games. Among U17-players in all of J20 SuperElit Gunler finished 3rd in scoring, behind Simon Holmström and Albin Grewe. Luleå continued to do well in the playoffs, after receiving reinforcements from the men’s team in form of Nils Lundkvist and Isac Lundeström as Luleå’s SHL-team was eliminated early on. Gunler played a big part in Luleå’s playoff-success, he scored three goals and added another three assists in eight games as he finished 3rd in team scoring when Luleå made their way to the semifinals, before being eliminated by the to be champions – Hv71. Gunler’s point totals in the playoffs were 2nd among all U17-players and 3rd among all U18-players
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) March 17, 2018
Even though Gunler played very well last season this has been the season where he has had his real breakthrough and established himself as a top player among Swedish juniors. He had a close to dominant first half of the season in J20 SuperElit North where he finished tied for 1st in points with 34 points (19 goals and 15 assists) and 1st in goals. During the Top10-series Gunler has bounced back and forth between Luleå’s SHL-team and the J20 team, but in the six games he has played he has 10 points (six goals and four assists). While playing with the SHL-team Gunler has been very impressive and he has five points (two goals and three assists) in 15 games to show for it. If we look at the level he has played at this season he has often looked like he is a bit too good for J20 SuperElit and while I would assume that he finishes the season there and plays in the playoffs with the J20 team it would be quite surprising if we see him more than occasionally in J20 SuperElit in the future.
So, what makes Gunler one of the most interesting prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft?
We can start by looking at one of his most apparent stand out skills – his shot. In short it is easy to describe it as powerful and extremely precise, with a quick and deceptive release. It all comes down to how well Gunler handles different kind of shooting techniques, he can shoot the puck in many different ways and no matter how he does it, it will result in a high-quality shot. Gunler’s snapshot is incredibly hard to read for the goaltender and he has such a quick motion when he shoots that even goaltenders that are prepared for the shot won’t be able to react, which at times make it look very easy when he scores with his snapshot. Gunler’s wrist shot isn’t as deceptive as the snap shot but it is instead highly accurate and extremely powerful and if he is given the slightest bit of time around the opposing net, he will find an opening to put the puck into the net. His wrist shot is so good that even when goaltenders know that it is coming, and there’s no screen in front of them, there’s nothing they can do to stop it. A not too farfetched comparison to Gunler’s wrist shot technique is Elias Pettersson and the way he handles the puck when he shoots, and how it sometimes looks so easy when the puck finds its way into the net.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 9, 2019
Gunler also has a very well-developed slap shot that he normally only utilizes on the powerplay. He often plays on the left side and hoovers around the face-off circle from where he either can shoot a one-timer or take a few steps into the zone before shooting. No matter if he has the puck under control or if he must shoot a one-timer Gunler’s shooting technique makes it possible for him to very often find a top corner when shooting slap shots. Just as with his wrist shot Gunler has a very fast motion while shooting slap shots, which gives little to no room for the goaltenders to prepare or react.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) March 15, 2018
While Gunler’s shot is his stand out-skill there are plenty of other aspects in his offensive game that makes him a terrific goal scorer, he is far from a stationary one-trick sniper. He has the mindset of a typical goal scorer, he always looks for a chance to put the puck into the net. It is not needed for Gunler to have a clear goal scoring opportunity for him to try to score, he will try to score from anywhere in the offensive zone if he is given the chance to do so. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the blue line, somewhere along the boards, right next to the goal or in the slot, Gunler will shoot the puck if he sees a chance to score a goal. It has happened more than once that he has scored since the goaltender wasn’t prepared that he would shoot from the position he was in, since players typically do not do so.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) September 29, 2018
With his determination and will to score goals Gunler doesn’t shy away from the area around the net. He will head towards the net to search for loose pucks, rebounds or the chance to redirect a shot. It is no coincidence that he often is the player that finds the puck when it is somewhere around the opposing net before tapping it in, he reads the play so well, keeps his eyes on the puck and can anticipate where the puck will be before his opponents have a chance to clear it. So, even if he doesn’t have the puck on his stick, he is a constant threat when he is around the crease, and defenders need to be fully aware on where he is and where he is going.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 24, 2017
Gunler’s great anticipation skill and ability to read the game complements his other goal scoring abilities very well. He is exceptional at finding prime scoring positions to position himself in and to become an option for a pass. He often searches for a defender to get close to, to make it seem like the defender has him marked before taking a few steps back and thus creating a lot of open ice to position himself at. Right now, there isn’t a player in J20 SuperElit that is as good as Gunler at creating and finding open ice in the offensive zone, he is in a class of his own when it comes to that.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) November 22, 2017
Gunler is almost as good at anticipating plays in form of turnovers in the neutral or defensive zone, which then results in goal scoring chances for his team. He is often very quick at leaving the defensive zone when his team just has won the puck or is about to win the puck to create a break away for himself and he will quickly expose defenders that gives him a bit of room to skate into in the neutral zone. A bad line change or two defenders that have a misunderstanding while Luleå has the puck in the neutral of defensive zone and Gunler is on the ice can become an instant goal scoring chance. He can often sneak up on the other side of the neutral zone when the opponents are making a line change and the puck is in Luleå’s zone, and if the opposing team isn’t fully aware of what is about to happen he will be in a position that can result in a breakaway.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) December 8, 2018
While Gunler’s primarily is a goal scorer he is still a very good playmaker as well. While defending against him you cannot give up too much room for him to make a play when you try to prevent him from shooting, or he will find a way to set up a team mate. He sees the ice very well, has overall excellent vision and can notice open passing lanes very quickly. He can make good long-range passes to create odd man rushes or breakaways from the neutral or defensive blue line and he can also make great short-range passes while maintaining speed shortly after entering the blue line or a quick one-time pass to set up a team mate while playing in the offensive zone. His smartness and ability to make quick but good decisions with the puck make him a dangerous playmaker when he has the puck in his possession in the offensive zone. Gunler often looks very calm confident when he has the puck and wants to make a play, he rarely get stressed or throw away pucks when he is pressured, and he has no problem holding the puck to wait for a passing lane to open up before making a play.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) January 29, 2017
Gunler’s style can often be quite straightforward, but he also has soft and quick hands and can pull out a dangle if it is needed to create space for himself or to get past a defender one-on-one, but you typically do not see him stickhandle his way past a defender every shift. In one-on-one situations he often uses the defender as a screen before shooting, if they get to passive, but if they try to make a poke-check he will make a move to jump past the defender instead. His overall puck control and puck handling is good, but a notch below his primary offensive skills.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) January 12, 2019
Skating might be the area in which Gunler has improved the most since last season, at times he got a bit too stationary and did not move his feet enough, he was far from a choppy skater but it was an area which it was apparent that he needed to improve. To this season he has clearly improved his first steps, he isn’t as explosive as for example Lucas Raymond (who might be the most explosive skater out of all players in the 2020 NHL Draft) but Gunler’s initial acceleration is still above average in J20 SuperElit. Gunler’s top speed is clearly above average for his age and enough to make good use of many of his other skills that benefits from speed, but still a bit from being among the best in his age-group. His acceleration is good, both with and without the puck, but there’s room for improvement in that area. Gunler is very strong on his skates, he has good balance and lower body strength, which makes it hard for opponents to knock him off the puck. He is quite agile and elusive so even when opponents think that they can pin him up against the boards he can make a quick turn or take a quick step forward and get away. Those attributes, combined with his quite good hands, makes Gunler a good puck carrier, and he likes to both move the puck zone-to-zone and around in the offensive zone. He makes very good use of it on the powerplay as he often carries the puck into the offensive zone before setting up the play.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) October 13, 2018
Gunler isn’t the most physical player and could use some more grit to his game. He can get annoyed and step up his physical play and play with a bit more edge to his game but you will not see him looking to make big hits or run someone over. Due to all his other skills and attributes Gunler isn’t in dire need of more upper body strength but once he will consistently play against men in the SHL it would be beneficially for him to add more raw strength and a bit more grit to his game.
Defensively is where we can find the most areas of improvement in Gunler’s game. Compared to his offensive game he can look slightly uninterested at times, with low intensity to the point that he can become very passive in his own zone often just waiting for his team to win the puck so he can jump into the neutral zone to start a counterattack. His positional play has steadily improved this season but is still not very impressive, he has good defensive awareness and he can make good reads and intercept passes when he tries and puts full effort into it, but it isn’t something that he consistently does every single shift. His work rate in the defensive zone is quite far from the work rate he has when he can find a loose puck around the opposing net, and he isn’t as eager to win a board battle behind his own net as he is trying to win a one-on-one against a defender in front of the net to get a chance to deflect a shot from the blue line. If he would play defense with half the determination he has when he wants to score a goal, he would be an excellent two-way player. He has all the tools to become at least a decent defensive player, but he isn’t there yet and a lot of work has to be done to get there.
With that said, I believe Noel Gunler has all it is needed to become a good NHL-player. His shot and nose for the net is exceptional for his age, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was able to score quite a few goals in the SHL as soon as next season. His journey to the 2020 NHL Draft, and beyond, will be very exciting to follow.
— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) February 23, 2019
That’s it for me, for this time. Thanks for reading!