The first North American pro season for Jonas Gunnarsson has very much been a tale of the waiting game. While the Nashville Predators have flipped between Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros as the choice for backing up Pekka Rinne it has been Gunnarsson quietly waiting for his chance to show what he can do in Milwaukee. The instability topside might only just be starting to solidify itself. And, to end the 2016 calendar year, Gunnarsson has shown a taste of what he’s capable of and just why the Predators elected to sign him from his native Sweden this past off-season.
Gunnarsson is a 24-year old goaltender from Eksjö, Sweden that has continually made strides in his home country. He progressed through the youth academies of Nässjö HC and HV71 before officially being unleashed on a more frequent senior team basis as a member of the Malmö Redhawks. His efforts in the 2014-15 season saw him help Malmö elevate out of the second tier Allsvenskan league in Sweden back into the top flight of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) the following season.
It was last year, playing in the spotlight of the SHL, where Gunnarsson put himself on Nashville’s radar. Although Malmö did not reach the playoffs Gunnarsson still posted career highs for himself at a senior team level and did so in one of the top European leagues: 44 games, 2.47 goals against average, 0.913 save percentage. In addition to his work at club level he also earned the chance to represent his country at an international level where he stopped 23/24 shots in a 5-1 win for Sweden over Switzerland in his international debut at senior level. It was a feather in the cap of what had already been a whirlwind and successful individual year.
Yet, the opportunity to make the splash to the North American pro scene came knocking and did so from an organization that has developed some of the better European goaltenders in the game today. The Predators organization signed Gunnarsson to a one-year entry level contract on 6/1/16. He took part in the Rookie Development Camp in Nashville over the Summer, went head-to-head to win the back-up job against Mark Visentin at Admirals Training Camp ahead of the 2016-17 season, and then settled in for what has been a struggle for time in net as the season has progressed.
While the European playing season does have an earlier start than here in North American it is somewhat surprising just how drastic of a change things have been from one-year to the next for Gunnarsson. Right now he has logged 6 games in net for the Admirals. By this time last year he had logged 28 games in net for Malmö. The rotation and uncertainty that has played out in front of him this season couldn’t have been expected. Luckily for him, when given the opportunity, he has made the most of his ice time.
The numbers might not truly give an honest reflection of Gunnarsson’s early work with the Admirals so far. In his first few appearances he has had the misfortune of being the man between the pipes for some true stinkers by the group in front of him. Yet, through all the down time and waiting to redeem himself for those games, the Swede has been a workhorse in practice. The Admirals have an incredible family atmosphere this season and workers like Gunnarsson do not go unappreciated. When he earned his first career North American pro win – it was a big boost for the entire team. When he earned his first career North American pro shutout – ditto. The locker room is a big fan of Gunnarsson the goaltender, the professional that he is around the rink, and the person that he is away from it.
After having chatted with him myself following a practice not too long ago it isn’t hard to see why people can become a fan of Gunnarsson the person. Fans who were there for post-game skate following his shutout performance can also relate to that. He didn’t even leave the rink before being swarmed by fans who shared their appreciation of his efforts that night – and he was the last person off the ice making sure no fan left without giving a thanks or an autograph. So, without further ado, let’s all get to know our new Swedish goaltender that little bit better.
Thank you so much to Jonas Gunnarsson for spending the time to conduct this interview. The next man set to be featured in Fifteen will be defenseman Jack Dougherty. That will be coming in the very near future. As always, I’d love to get who you want to hear in Fifteen next. There are still plenty of new Admirals to have featured. Let’s have some fan suggestions!
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