The current NHL trend is to build a defence corps around mobile, puck-moving defenders that can drive play from their own end, all the way to the offensive zone. In this year’s draft those prospects seem to be coming from Finland, but Sweden’s Erik Brännström is one of those special players, and a standout talent in his own right.
He was one of the best Swedish defenders in terms of offence while playing in the Swedish junior league for HV71, producing at over a point per game in his draft year. His strong play earned him a call-up to the senior squad, where he more than held his own against a higher level of competition. His growth as a player is only going to continue as he plays in the Swedish Hockey League this coming season.
Birthplace: Eksjo, Sweden
Weight: 175 lbs.
Brännström is a highly mobile defender who can carry the puck in any zone with relative ease. He reads the ice incredibly well, finding lanes to create zone entries, before finding an open teammate to pass to.
“I like to watch [Shayne] Gostisbehere in Philadelphia, or Ryan Ellis in Nashville,” he stated at the 2017 NHL Scouting Combine. “They’re good players to model my game after.”
His skating ability lets him drive play going forward, and at top speed he’s able to blow by opposing defenders in the offensive zone and create chances out of seemingly thin air.
As you can see, this skating ability that he possesses makes him a nightmare to play against. He can carry the puck on his own to start the breakout, or read the defensive alignment to pick out a teammate and make the pass up ice to get the play started.
Once he enters the offensive zone he showcases another major part of his game. He loves to put the puck on net. At last year’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, he led the entire event in shots on net, leading the runner up by six. While he doesn’t possess a booming slapshot like other prospects, his wrist shot is quick and accurate.
Despite his reputation as being a dominant offensive player, his defensive game is more than up to snuff. His hockey IQ is off the charts, allowing him to read the opposing rushes while maintaining solid gap control in his own end. He utilizes a very active stick to knock pucks out of harms way, or to steal them and quickly transition into a rush the other way.
The main knock against Brännström has nothing to do with his ability on the ice, but instead it’s his size. He stands under six feet tall, and his slight build sometimes causes him to give up ground around the net to his opponents. With his ability to read the opposing offence, he typically is more than capable of overcoming this flaw.
He also occasionally attempts the overly risky play as opposed to the safe one due to the confidence he has in his abilities. This isn’t a bad thing per se, and an expected trait of a puck-carrier, but some coaches may frown upon the unnecessary turnovers that will result.
Offensive-thinking blue-liner, moves with a smooth stride and loves to be the man to rush the puck on the breakout. Great vision and shifty stick skills allows him to get some room to make impact plays.
Elite skater in terms of both speed and agility. Fantastic hockey sense and can see plays before they happen. Makes the right plays and creates time for himself and teammates. If he can add more strength and muscle he will be able to play at the highest level.
Hockey Prospect: 16
Future Considerations: 18
Central Scouting Service: 9 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman: 11
It’s clear right from the outset that Erik Brännström has the ability to become a dynamic professional player. He skates like the wind, reads the play with ease, and generates offence from the blue line. He’s part of the next generation of NHL defencemen: highly mobile, but very much capable of defending in their own end as well.
Compared to a peer such as Callan Foote, Brännström has a much higher ceiling due to his skating and offensive prowess. With that in mind, him falling to 25th overall would be a major coup for the Canadiens, but it’s more likely that if Montreal truly wants him they’d have to move up in the draft via trade. Given the level of play that he is likely to reach, and how rare it is for a player of this ability to come along, and not be among the top prospects, it would be an option to consider.
If Brännström was 6’2’’ he’d likely be going as one of the top five picks in this draft with his skill set. Him falling all the way down to Montreal’s hands would arguably make him the steal of the draft.