While not as well-known as his countryman Timothy Liljegren, Erik Brännström has emerged as one of the top defensive prospects coming out of Europe this year. This HV71 defenseman has put on an impressive showing across the SuperElit, the SHL, and the U18s, and has been drawing enough interest from scouts that I could see him being taken as a late 1st round pick. Brännström led the entire SuperElit in P/GP as a U18 defenseman, scoring 9 goals and adding 14 assists in 19 games, following it up with a 3 goal, 4 assist performance in 7 games in the playoffs. Brännström also saw 35 games in the SHL, where he scored a goal, and added 5 assists, once again leading all U18 defensemen in scoring, and putting him in 3rd in P/GP for a U18 skater, behind only Liljegren and Kristian Vesalainen. Brännström followed up this impressive season with an equally impressive showing at the U18s, where he led Sweden’s defense in scoring, and ended his tournament 5th in defensive scoring, behind only Miro Heiskanen, Max Gildon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Mark Rubinchik, scoring 2 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. Interestingly, the pairing of Brännström and Liljegren led all defensemen in the tournament in shots by a wide margin. Both showed a spectacular proclivity for offense, but Brännström ended up producing more in this tournament.
All-in-all, in the scenario that the Wings miss out on Heiskanen, Liljegren and Makar, Brännström is an excellent candidate to take if they can find a way to negotiate a trade for a late 1st round pick, hopefully without sacrificing their 9th overall pick in the process.
Name: Erik Brännström
Date of birth: September 2, 1999
Birthplace: Eksjö, Sweden
Weight: 179 lbs
NHL comparable: Torey Krug
McKeen’s Hockey: 21
Future Considerations: 22
NHL CSS: 9 (International Skaters)
Brännström is a very dynamic, offensively-minded defenseman, who, while not the biggest player, is an outstanding skater that has great acceleration in all four directions. He is smooth as glass on his skates, and is probably one of the better skaters among defensive prospects in the draft. He has a very strong lower body, which gives his stride a lot of power behind it. His edgework is also very good, which he can use to shift east-west to avoid forecheckers, and allows him to initiate the transition out of the defensive zone efficiently. He is also surprisingly tough to knock off of the puck when he has his feet moving, which helps to counteract his size quite effectively.
Brännström’s offensive abilities are probably among the best in the draft for a defenseman. He hits pretty much every checkmark you can think of when looking for an offensively dynamic defenseman. He has that game-breaking skill level that can allow him to take over a game, and he is an absolute joy to watch when he has the puck. His puckhandling ablities are top notch, as he handles the puck with so much poise and control, which, combined with his skating abilities, allows him to control the tempo of the game in the offensive zone very well. He possesses very high-end passing abilities and vision, and quarterbacks the back end as good as any defenseman in this draft. He’s capable of making very smart plays with the puck, and distributes it around the offensive zone with crisp, accurate passes on the tape. His saucer pass is downright nasty, and he can use it to great effect both on the transition and on the cycle game. He’s gifted with a sense of finding creative and smart passing and shooting lanes to keep the pressure on the other team in the offensive zone. He sports a very good wrist shot, which has a great release and accuracy on it. He has the ability to drag the puck in and release the puck in full flight with a lot of accuracy, demonstrating a lot of mastery over his puck control abilities. He is extremely adept at getting his shot on net through traffic, even when he’s under pressure. Such skills make him an invaluable asset on the powerplay and for a team’s puck possession game. It seems like every time I watch him with the puck in the offensive zone, he’s always a threat, and he’s always doing something to create scoring chances and drive the play from the blueline. While Torey Krug is an apt comparison for a present NHLer, I have also heard some comparisons to Kimmo Timonen, which I would also say is a very appropriate stylistic comparison.
On the defensive side of the puck, Brännström has a few strengths and weaknesses. In terms of his strengths, he’s very good at retrieving the puck and getting the transition started quickly. His first pass out of the zone on the breakout is excellent, and he’s very good at his North-South puck movement on the transition. He has demonstrated very good stickwork in my viewings of him, and has a great pokecheck. He’s very good at managing his gaps, and knows how to take the ice away from puck carriers in the neutral zone and breaking the play up. At the same time, however, he is at his best when he is able to get the transition set up before the other team’s forecheck can bear down and apply enough pressure to force turnovers and get sustained zone time. In terms of his weaknesses, in such scenarios, he admittedly needs to improve, as he can be outmuscled by bigger forwards, and his positioning and reads need some improvement. I think these things will improve with time, however, as he gains more experience, and as he works on his strength and conditioning during offseasons. He has demonstrated that he can be very competent on the defensive side of the puck, and I don’t think he has the risk of becoming another Jakub Kindl or Luca Sbisa. At the moment, I see him as a very promising project, and someone who has the high-end talent that would warrant gambling on him in the late 1st round.
All-in-all, Brännström is a very alluring prospect that I would be hyped about if the Wings acquired him. In the scenario where they miss out on Heiskanen, Liljegren, and Makar, if the Wings somehow managed to find a way to acquire a 2nd 1st round pick somewhere between 20-28, I would personally be thrilled if the Wings had the opportunity to land him. Brännström is an extremely dynamic talent, and his North-South game is something we don’t see consistently with the Red Wings these days. The ability that he has to quickly initiate the transition either on the rush or with a first pass out of the defensive zone before the other team’s forecheck can settle in would make him a good fit for the type of system that Blashill has been trying to implement. Since he started his tenure with the Wings, Blashill has been trying to fit a round peg into a square hole when it comes to implementing his system, but players like Brännström, along with Hronek, Saarijärvi, Cholowski and Hicketts could end up being those square pegs that he is desperately missing. Having a core of players like that would bring a ton of mobility and offensive dynamic to the team’s back end, and could help make the Red Wings a very dangerous team on the transition for years to come. While Brännström will not be in the NHL next year, he will have the advantage of being able to develop at the highest level in Sweden, where he can develop his defensive game further against grown men. Whether you disagree with taking Brännström because the Wings already have a few smaller, offensively dynamic defensemen in the pipeline is your prerogative, but I think he would be a great fit for the team, and would inject a lot of skill and offensive creativity on what is currently a sluggish, offensively-challenged septic tank conflagration of a defensive core.
Anyways, this concludes my thoughts on Erik Brännström. When I return next, I am going to be taking a look at a very under-the-radar player playing out of St. Cloud State in the NCAA, Ryan Poehling. In the meantime, happy scouting!
Also: even though I’m Canadian and we don’t observe it, I hope all of you have a good Memorial Day, and thank you for your service if you have served, or are currently serving.