Before he even had the chance to play a game with the NHL team that drafted him, Erik Brännström was the centerpiece in a trade for a superstar forward.
Seven months later, the 20-year-old Brännström is now part of the youth movement looking to turnaround the Ottawa Senators.
Brännström was taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, the third player ever taken by the expansion club. He never played a game for Vegas though. The Golden Knights were competing for the Western Conference crown and wanted to acquire another scorer as they made their playoff push.
With the Senators out of contention and uncertain if they could reach a long-term agreement with fantastic two-way star Mark Stone, they dealt him at last year’s trade deadline for the highly-touted Brännström in yet another move to bolster Ottawa’s rebuilding efforts.
“It’s fun to be part of such a big trade. I got traded against Stone who is a pretty big name here [in Ottawa] and in the NHL so of course it’s fun. It’s a great opportunity here with young guys fighting for spots. I am really happy to be here.”
On Ottawa, he will get the opportunity to not only learn, but also have a major role on the team this season for better or worse. The NHL game is still new to the Eskjö, Sweden native. He played just two NHL games before this season and is now in the midst of his first year as a full-time NHLer.
“I’m starting to feel better and better every game.”
Brännström is part of a group of young and gifted players that Ottawa fans are anticipating can get the franchise trending in the right direction in 2019 and beyond. He joins Colin White, fellow defenceman Thomas Chabot, fiery forward Brady Tkachuk, and first-year head coach DJ Smith as promising pieces in a rebuild project bringing hope to the nation’s capital.
Smith is in his first year as Senators’ head coach and is leading the way for the core of young Senators while learning how to be an NHL ‘bench boss’ for the first time in his career. Brännström says he feels that Smith is building a foundation through hard work and preparation.
“Tough practices and he wants us to work really hard. He’s a good coach and I listen to him,” said Brännström.
Brännström modeled his game after other Swedish defencemen growing up. Coincidentally enough, one was an offensive defenceman also named Erik who played his fair share of games at the Canadian Tire Centre. There is a long line of offensively gifted defencemen from Sweden that Brännström strived to emulate, Erik Karlsson being chief among them.When asked who caught his attention as he was growing his game, Brännström pointed to Karlsson and the Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
In year one with Ottawa, Brännström is focused on steady improvement so he can stay with the team throughout the season, rather than get sent down to develop with the Belleville Senators where he spent nine games last season after the trade from Vegas. That steady improvement includes simplifying his game as he gains more experience, while continuing his ability to be creative in the offensive zone.
Brännström is a left-handed shot but opened this season on the right side of the blue line, opposite 38-year-old NHL veteran Ron Hainsey.
Hainsey has played over 1000 NHL games in his career. When they began playing together in the preseason, Brännström had played just two.
“It’s great to have him around and play with him. He has played over 1000 games so he knows what he’s doing out there. We talk a lot on the bench about different situations which helps me a lot,” said Brännström.
Hainsey has taught Brännström about defensive zone positioning which the young defenceman said has helped him avoid overworking in his own end. He has started to let the play come to him more rather than burn himself out chasing the puck. Just like the Senators’ other promising young players, expect further improvement as Brännström gains NHL experience both in games played and lessons from the veteran leadership around him.
Outsiders and onlookers will continue to write the Ottawa Senators off but the men inside the locker room seem to expect big things out of this team. Even though it may not come to fruition this season, something is building in Ottawa and Erik Brännström likely is not alone in his optimism.
“We have skilled players and I think we can do something good in here, so I have high expectations for this team.”
By Liam Fox