Andrew Brunette is not a flashy player. He's not a prolific scorer, save for one season in which he scored 83 points. He's not very fast, but he's not an over-sized bruiser, either. He's reserved and doesn't put on much of a show for the media. In fact, if he didn't have such a major impact on the games in which he plays, you might not realize he's even on the ice at all.
Brunette's value to the Colorado Avalanche wasn't the same as the value of Joe Sakic, or Peter Forsberg, or Paul Stastny. His value was his uncanny vision on the ice and his ability to dictate a play when it's most important. And he's a beast behind the net.
Among a long list of gritty grinders and dazzling shooters, Andrew Brunette makes the Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time list for his leadership, his hockey sense, and his impressive durability.
"Bruno" was a bit of a late bloomer. He appeared to be on an incredible track in the junior OHL, scoring 163 points in 66 games with the Owen Sound Platters during the 1992-93 season. But he was drafted 174th by the Washington Capitals in the 7th round of the 1993 draft, and immediately shipped off to the Hampton Roads Admirals of the ECHL.
In 20 games with the Admirals, Brunette scored 30 points. He was quickly promoted to the AHL and the Providence Bruins, but he played only 3 games before moving on to the Portland Pirates of the same league. There, to finish out the season, he managed another 20 points in 23 games. Overall a good first season as a professional hockey player.
His scoring touch didn't dissipate in 1994-95. Still with the Pirates, he had 30 goals and 80 points in 79 games. But it wasn't until 1995-96 that he first got called up to the Capitals, and then only for 11 games. His three goals and six points in that stint was impressive for a rookie, no doubt, but the Capitals still weren't ready for him to take a full-time roster spot. He played 69 games in the AHL that year, scoring an impressive 94 points.
The Capitals were never fully sold on Bruno, despite his impressive showings in the AHL. After playing just 62 games in the three NHL seasons between 1995 and 1998, the Capitals didn't protect him from the expansion draft and he was chosen by the newly-created Nashville Predators.
Finally, at age 25, he got the chance to play a full season in the big league. Unfortunately, he managed just 31 points in 77 games. The next year, he found himself on yet another new team, the Atlanta Thrashers. His numbers improved considerably there, with 50 points in 1999-00 and 59 in 2000-01. But his time in Atlanta would be short as well.
In 2001-02, Brunette joined the Minnesota Wild, and had an excellent season. In 81 games he scored 21 goals and 69 points, and cemented himself as a top-six forward for that team. In 2002-03, he made a name for himself in the State Of Hockey by scoring an overtime, game- and series-clinching goal against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs. That game would turn out to be Roy's last, and Brunette's goal against him is no doubt still etched in the mind of the greatest goalie of all time.
I could include a video clip of that goal, but I'm not going to.
Bruno would play one more season with the Wild, and spent time as the team captain, but the Lockout saw him become a free agent, and he signed with the team he shocked just two years earlier: the Avalanche. Brunette's first season with the Avs was impressive, and the second-best of his career up to that point, scoring-wise. He had 63 points in 82 games and his impact as a durable playmaker was felt immediately. He clicked very well with Joe Sakic and supplied the calm, steady presence the Avs needed down low and behind the net.
His breakout year came at the ripe old age of 33, when in 2006-07, Brunette and Sakic teamed up for an impressive offensive showing. Brunette's 83 points were second-best on the team behind Super Joe, who scored 100. The two seemed to gel very well together on the Avs' top line, and put up impressive numbers during the ultimately futile 15-2-2 push to make the playoffs in the last 19 games of that season. At just $800,000, Brunette's salary was considered one of the biggest values in the NHL for 2006-07.
In 2007-08, Brunette's age and lack of speed seemed to catch up with him a bit, but his durability and keen playmaking sense compensated. Despite the long-term losses of key offensive teammates like Sakic, Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos, Brunette played all 82 games and scored 59 points, consistent with most of his past seasons. He currently holds the longest consecutive games-played streak in the NHL, which stands at 453.
Brunette's positioning, keen playmaking vision and veteran leadership helped the Avs tremendously through a tumultuous year. His presence was no doubt a calming factor in the locker room. Unfortunately, Joel Quenneville's presence as head coach was not a calming factor for Brunette, and it was revealed that the two had serious disagreements during the season about strategy and line combinations. Quenneville's contract was not renewed, which would have seemed like a good thing for Brunette, except that the Avalanche front office wasn't very interested in bringing him back, either. In the summer of 2007, without a new contract offer from the Avalanche, Brunette returned to the Minnesota Wild as a free agent.
Though Andrew Brunette's time with the Avalanche is now over, his contributions to the team during the first three post-Lockout seasons were invaluable. Durability, leadership, playmaking ability, and an unexpected scoring touch made him a critical member of a team struggling to reclaim its tradition of success. Bruno will be sorely missed in Colorado.
[Highest rating: 14. Lowest rating: 19. Average score: 18.25]