Noel Gunler is learning from adversity. Ranked as a consensus top-15 pick in the 2020 draft by almost every outlet that produces rankings, the Swedish forward has been praised with showing high-end skill, a lethal shot and playmaking ability.
Related: THW’s 2020 Draft Guide
However, being passed over by the Swedish national team this year for the World Juniors has created some polarizing questions about Gunler’s status for this year’s draft.
Gunler acknowledged in an interview with The Hockey Writers on Wednesday that being passed over this past winter created a lot of motivation for performing at his best in the SHL, and that he has done his best to take it all in stride and learn from the experience.
“That motivated me to show people that I can play at that top level,” Gunler said. “I know I can. This year the coaches didn’t think that I was able to make that team, and I accepted it for sure. Next year, hopefully I can make the team and play on that top international level for Sweden.”
Gunler’s Time With Luleå
Gunler produced at a high level for Luleå in the SuperElit in 2018-19, tallying 46 points in 31 games before being promoted this season to the SHL squad. He recorded 13 points in 41 games this season as an 18-year-old.
“It was a big change for me because it was a big step both mentally and physically. I had to take it all in. It turned out pretty well. I’ve had some ups and downs, but I think that I learned a lot from this season and I feel like it’ll help me going into the next season. I know now what it takes every game and every practice to be the player that I want to be.”
Gunler said he has a plan for his future and that he is willing to take the steps that will be required of him in order to achieve that plan.
“I feel like I’m ready to play a bigger role for the team. I want to be a player that coaches can rely on in all situations and I want them to want to play me all the time, so that’s what I’m hoping for. I want to take steps into next season and take on a bigger role on the team.”
With those ups and downs come learning experiences and Gunler admits that he has had his fair share. “Sometimes I didn’t even play even play. I feel like I always had to keep believing in myself and I know what my skills are and I know what I can do. I grew up a lot as a person and a player this season.”
He said that with that growth comes confidence and that it will help him in the future. “I’m so much stronger mentally than I’ve been (in the past). I think I’ve had more up and downs than I thought before the season that I was going to have. I can take that with me and believe in myself.”
Preparing for the Draft
With the draft right around the corner, Gunler said that he is preparing the best that he can, and just wants to show what he is capable of.
“It’s pretty crazy right now around the world with the virus,” Gunler said. “There’s not much we can do right now. We just have to stay home and do as well as we can. I’m just trying to be ready for anything that comes. I’m looking forward to the draft and the combine if there’s going to be one, whenever it’s going to be. I’ll be ready for it, and I’m looking forward to it whenever it happens.”
With more and more uncertainty around sporting events due to the coronavirus, Gunler acknowledges that a virtual draft is a real possibility, but he believes that not being at the draft will only dampen the mood slightly.
“I think everyone will be disappointed if that happens,” Gunler said. “It’s a very cool experience to be there at the draft. Just taking it all in will be really cool. Everyone wants to be there, but if it’s not going to happen, it’s going to be a good experience anyways. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life no matter what happens.”
Gunler’s good friend and teammate, Nils Lundkvist (drafted by the New York Rangers in 2019) has given him advice and has told him generally what to expect moving forward.
“We are very good friends, and I have talked to him about the combine and the draft. He tells me that it’s a once in a lifetime experience and it’s something to remember for the rest of my life. He just tells me to take it all in.”
Gunler said that he has more and more interviews he has to do during which he is required to speak a different language than he does on a daily basis. He believes that helps with his interviews with teams.
“My English is getting better and better the more that I speak it,” Gunler said with a laugh. “We’ve practiced it here since we were 10. We have English in school, so that’s a big reason it’s getting better. It’s a good experience to feel more comfortable speaking English.”
Connection to His Home
Seeing more and more players make it in the league from Sweden motivates Gunler to be next.
“I watch hockey all the time, and I never played against Elias Pettersson, I don’t know him personally, but I have followed him since he played in the Allsvenskan and then the SHL and now the NHL. It’s really fun to see a guy like that go over and show the world how good he is.”
Gunler is usually the third Swedish player named when scouts and analysts discuss the draft, behind Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. He recognizes that, but he said it’s also motivation to push himself to work harder.
“They are two very good players for sure, and it motivates me to show that I can be in that conversation too.”
Getting drafted is step one in Gunler’s path to his main goal, and he said that getting drafted alongside of Raymond and Holtz will be awesome, but it’s step one in achieving his ultimate goal.
“I always have high goals for myself, but it’s just one step in the right direction for me to achieve my ultimate goal and my dream to play in the NHL one day.”
While the 18-year-old continues on his path to achieve that dream, Gunler is learning what it takes to get there every single day.