Note: We have no photos of Erik Brannstrom, so here’s the expected top three picks instead.
The New York Rangers have a first round pick for the first time in five years. That means for the past four years I’ve gotten to watch my SB Nation counterparts have a ball mocking the draft while I sat on the sidelines trying not to be depressed. This year I got to play along, though, and I think things played out about as well as they could have for the Rangers.
Barring a draft-day move, the Rangers hold the 21st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. There are a few players who we have targeted as needs for the Rangers who might see their stock fall into that window. In truth, the Rangers’ farm is so barren of true high-end talent, the real selection should be best player available rather than drafting for a need. As such, guys like Nicholas Suzuki, Kailer Yamamoto, Erik Brännström and Callan Foote are expected to be on the board when it’s Jeff Gorton’s turn to make his selection.
When our turn came up, there were a few of those players available. I polled the Blueshirt Banter group and the player that gave us the most pause about passing on was Yamamoto. He was picked 14th overall however, which made the decision easier. In the end, I’m not sure it would have mattered if he was available since the upside of Brannstrom (along with the position he plays) could be too perfect a cocktail to pass up on.
Brännström is like an Erik Karlsson lite (NOT A DIRECT COMPARISON). He’s a smooth skating, Swedish defenseman who is impressing at every level he’s played at over seas. This year he recorded 23 points in 19 SuperElit games (think of it as the SHL’s AHL), six points in 35 SHL games (as a 17-year-old!!!), and 12 points in 17 U18 International games. He also recorded five points in seven WJC-U18 games for Sweden. In terms of his age, and the level of competition he’s playing in, there’s a ceiling on this kid is exactly what the Rangers should be looking for.
The drawbacks? He’s small. In a game where undersized kids are exploding onto the scene this shouldn’t be an issue. But, well, Nicolas Hauge has worked his way into a potential top-20 selection seemingly only because he’s 6’6”/210LBS. I understand the trepidation around a “small” defenseman, but you don’t have to grind out the world to be a good defensive presence. Not letting the other team have the puck is as good of defense as you’re going to get.
Erik Brännström might not have the sheer offensive upside of international team-mate and fellow 2017 draft prospect Timothy Liljegren, but the Swedish blueliner is everything that NHL clubs look for in a dynamic modern defenseman.
Brännström’s game is built on strong skating, smart decision-making, and a high compete level. He plays bigger than his size would suggest, and instinctively moves the puck well under pressure without ever looking rushed.
Brännström’s toolset allows him to excel in all three zones; He’s an excellent puck-mover with tremendous vision, capable of confidently running a powerplay, yet he’s often the first guy to hustle back and shut down a scoring chance at the other end too, utilizing particularly good gap control and a strong stick to snuff out opposing opportunities.
His discipline in the defensive zone often gives forwards nowhere to go in possession, either forcing the turnover or separating player from puck along the boards. Offensively one of his best attributes is changing the angle of attack with his feet; He thinks the game quickly and can feed passes to team-mates through tight lanes or stick-handle into space and take the shot himself.
Brännström drives possession and loves to have the puck on his stick. He carries confidently through the neutral zone and uses his IQ to set-up plays on entry. His skating and quick-thinking allow him to distribute the puck efficiently and effectively.
2016/17 was a strong season for the 17-year old who stood out as Sweden’s best defenseman at the U18 Worlds and impressed at U20 level for HV71. Perhaps more importantly, Brännström did not look out of place at all while skating minor minutes in over 30 SHL games as his team won the national championship.
The concern over Brännström for early-round NHL clubs is likely to be his size and impact timeframe. At 5’10 and around 180lbs, Brännström is one of the smaller players likely to go in the first round, and he’s probably a number of years away from dressing in the NHL. At the same time, he’s a fearless competitor and one of 2017’s younger prospects, just making the cut for this June. Passing on him would be a mistake.
So there you have it. Thoughts on our pick?