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Is the Ottawa Senators Erik Brännström Closer to Finding a Roster Spot?

Will the Senators Erik Brännström find a roster spot in 2020-21?

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Erik Brännström was good enough to be drafted by Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He was also good enough to be traded to the Ottawa Senators with center Oscar Lindberg and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft just minutes before the NHL’s 2019 trade deadline after popular Senators winger Mark Stone could not be signed.

At the time, Brännström seemed to be a good-enough return for Stone and was seen as the kind of young player who would also be able to ease the pain of losing the long-time great defenseman Erik Karlsson. In short, Brännström was a coveted prospect. But it simply hasn’t worked out that way for either the young Swedish defenseman or the Senators.

Brännström never really developed playing with the big club; however, when he was sent to Belleville, he looked really quite good. When injuries forced the Senators to call him up again, he actually had some solid defensive games where he totaled big minutes – over 21 minutes two nights – but he never really hit the score sheet as had been predicted.

It’s hard to argue that sending Brännström back to Belleville for more developmental experience was not the right call. But it leaves Senators fans with two questions about the youngster: (1) Was Brännström simply rushed too much to join Ottawa? and (2) Will Brännström ever be able to play successfully at an NHL level?

Related: Ottawa Senators Brady Tkachuk: Competing for a Leadership Role

Word This Week from Belleville Head Coach Troy Mann

In an article from the Ottawa Citizen this week, the Belleville Senators head coach Troy Mann reflected on Brännström’s season in the AHL and noted the improvements and progress the young defenseman has made throughout the 2019-20 season while playing in the AHL.

Specifically, Mann noted, “Brännström certainly improved his defensive game,” Mann said. “People have to realize Brännström isn’t a very big player (5-foot-9), so he’s going to have to win his battles through stick positioning and closing and using his feet and his intelligence. At the end of the day, as much as we want to have him box out in front of the net and win those 50/50 battles, he’s not going to win all of those.”

Mann also talked about how the coaching staff had been working with Brännström: “What we tried to work on as the season progressed was more stick detail, more positional awareness because we knew he wasn’t going to be able to win all those battles. I think he improved in that area, but for two straight years he’s been injured and that hasn’t helped. Both seasons, just when you liked where his game was and where he was at mentally, he got hurt.” (from “Not all is lost if the Belleville Senators don’t get a chance to finish the season,” Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Citizen, 22/04/20)

The Skinny on Brännström

If coach Mann is to be believed, and why wouldn’t we, in Brännström the Senators have a young defenseman whose progress is slower than hoped or expected. However, he’s far from a lost cause for the team. His progress towards the NHL has been pushed back by injuries, but he’s been taking the time to work out on-ice issues so that when he returns to the Ottawa ice, he’ll be more able to hold his own and even show some of that promised flash and dash.

As coaches, Mann and D.J. Smith hope to see much more consistent play from the 20-year-old defenseman when he’s healthy. Because Brännström has shown he can play an offensive role, with three goals and 23 points in 27 AHL games this season, there’s no reason to believe he can’t make an impact in the NHL. However, the four assists in 31 games he scored with Ottawa in 2019-20 simply doesn’t cut it.

As coach Mann noted as a final assessment, Brännström is “a heck of a player and he’s going to be a good one but he needs some consistent time without injuries.”

The bottom line is this: if Brännström can grow into playing a major role with this young rebuilding Senators team, Ottawa is well-positioned to have a strong team going forward. They certainly have a core of great young players.

The question is, is Brännström among them?

Related: The Ottawa Senators UFA’s: Who Should the Senators Sign and Who Should They Let Go?

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