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2017 NHL Draft Target: Is Erik Brannstrom the defenceman the Leafs need?

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Swedish defenceman Erik Brannstrom should be available at #17 or 18, and he carries a ton of offensive upside.

NHL: NHL Draft Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away: SHL defender Erik Brannstrom is undersized. He’s listed at 5’10 by Elite Prospects, and there is always more risk involved when drafting a defenceman with size concerns. If you want to take the safe route with the Leafs first round selection, your targeted defencemen at this year’s draft are likely Nicolas Hague or Cal Foote.

Both Hague and Foote carry defensive upside due to their size, but neither player is setting the world on fire in the points department. Foote plays for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, and with just 6 goals in 71 games, he’s not much of a scoring threat. Alternatively, Hague finished 14th among OHL defenceman in primary points per game this year, and no scouting service is projecting him to be a top unit powerplay quarterback. After Brannstrom dictated Sweden’s powerplay throughout the recent U-18 tournament, it is quite clear that he has the most offensive upside out of this trio.

He’s also one of the youngest players on the board, as his early September birthday makes him almost a full year younger than Hague, Foote, or Cale Makar. Let’s keep this in mind during our evaluation, as Brannstrom is not as far along in his development curve.

Player Profile: Erik Brannstrom

Brannstrom is your ideal powerplay quarterback. He’s elusive, moves the puck incredibly quickly, and he’s a dangerous scoring threat with either a one-timer or a wrist shot. He dominated at the U-18 tournament, and already boasts 38 games in the Swedish Hockey League.

Brannstrom put up 1.21 points per game in the SuperElit league this season, which is Sweden’s U-20 junior hockey league. This rivals Erik Karlsson’s draft year production of 0.97 points per game, and while we cannot possibly expect him to become the NHL’s best defenceman, this number can also compete with draft-eligible Timothy Liljegren or Flames prospect Oliver Kylington.

Points Per Game Statistics In Super-Elit League (U-20)

  • Erik Brannstrom (‘16-17): 1.17 ppg
  • Rasmus Dahlin (‘16-17): 1.06 ppg
  • Erik Karlsson (‘07-08): 0.97 ppg
  • Timothy Liljegren (‘15-16): 0.76 ppg
  • Timothy Liljegren (‘16-17): 0.58 ppg

Dahlin is in the running to be picked 1st overall in next year’s draft, and he’s only seven months younger than Brannstrom. Given his offensive upside, it’s tough to see why Brannstrom is not higher up on draft rankings. NHL Central Scouting ranks him 9th among European skaters, and he ranked 28th in terms of the consolidated draft rankings last month. A lack of size certainly makes this a bit of a risky pick, but Cale Makar is around the same size and sits comfortably within the top 10 on most lists.

Brannstrom earned 35 games in the SHL this year, but only scored 6 points in this span. His teammate Lias Andersson, who I profiled here, simply outplayed him with 19 points in 42 games. However, we must again consider the age difference here, as Andersson was held scoreless in 22 SHL games at Brannstrom’s age last season.

Watching Brannstrom In Action

It should not take long to evaluate Brannstrom as a plus puck carrier from the backend:

NHL Prospects

Takeaway + Assist:

Puck Carrying and Ability To Pick A Corner:

Keep In & Pass (From U-18 Tournament):

Gaining The Offensive Zone & Drawing A Penalty:

Breakout Pass:

Toe Drag vs. Canada

Goal vs. Canada:

Ability To Quarterback the Powerplay:

Slap Shot (x2):

Shootout Goal:

NHL Prospects

The Big Picture:

Are you willing to take a risk? When drafting an undersized defenceman, you question whether or not the player will be able to factor in on the penalty kill or match up against top competition. However, some of the top offensive defencemen in the game are undersized, and we can take Torey Krug, Ryan Ellis, Tyson Barrie, or Sami Vatanen for example. Brannstrom’s ability to fire a quick and accurate breakout pass allows his team to frequently exit the zone with possession, and he spends less time in his own end as a result.

Age is a huge factor here, as he’s only a few weeks away from being eligible for the 2018 draft. Hague, Foote, and Makar were all born in 1998, and it is tough to see them being rated so highly if they were draft eligible a year earlier. Brannstrom could be a star in the 2018-2019 World Junior Tournament, while these other three defenders will not even be eligible.

Although a risky selection, it seems next to impossible to acquire a top end offensive defenceman outside of the draft. Brannstrom carries that upside, and his size concerns are partially due to his late birthday. Patience will be required here, and while there are bound to be some bad turnovers along the way, this is a risk that could be worth taking for Toronto’s front office. .

I’ll leave you with this video, which showcases Brannstrom’s ability to fire an impressive breakout pass in the Swedish Hockey League. All in all, Brannstrom should be on Toronto’s short list at #17 or #18, as his offensive toolkit is flat-out intriguing.