Ottawa Senators Prospects: Erik Brannstrom is Poised to Take a Big Step Forward

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 02: Erik Brannstrom #26 of the Ottawa Senators skates during an NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on October 2, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 02: Erik Brannstrom #26 of the Ottawa Senators skates during an NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on October 2, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The biggest piece of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom will look to improve on some of the struggles he faced in Ottawa last season

Whenever a prospect is acquired for a star player, the hope is always for the promising player to bring a ton of value to the team, but some pundits expect immediate production which can’t be expected. Standing at just 5’10”, Brannstrom is a smaller framed defenceman and couldn’t be expected to thrive immediately at the NHL level.

This is the problem that occurred with top prospect Erik Brannstrom in his first full season with the Ottawa Senators. At just 20 years old, Brannstrom started the season with the big club but was met with uninspiring results. The offensive defenceman looked out of place at times and didn’t look quite ready to be a full-time NHL player. Whether because of pressure from the Mark Stone trade to keep Brannstrom in the NHL for as long as possible or just because of the Senators’ weak defensive core, he ended up playing 31 games. Which many could argue should have been significantly less.

2019-2020 Recap

Making the big club out of training camp, Brannstrom remained for the most part with the team through the beginning of January.

Starting the season in Ottawa, the talented defenceman produced just 4 assists in 31 games and while showing some flashes of what he could be, just didn’t exude the confidence you expect to see from a player of his pedigree. While the Senators were one of the worst teams in the NHL and didn’t exactly boast a great defensive core, the situation wasn’t set up to make Brannstrom thrive, being his main playing partner was veteran Ron Hainsey.

Despite not producing much in terms of the box score, Brannstrom held his own in the advanced metrics. Producing a solid 48.30 CF% (Corsi-for), which ranked him fourth among all Senators defenceman. His CF% Relative was also fourth among defenceman with a solid 1.09 rate, meaning Brannstrom was above average compared to his teammates at creating shots on the opponent’s net. All metrics per Natural Stat Trick.

While his defensive metrics lacked as he finished third-last in relative GA/60 and expected GA/60, there was some defenceman who were regulars on the roster who performed significantly worse.

After being sent down for the rest of the season on January 2nd, it was clear Ottawa wanted Brannstrom to regain his confidence, especially in the offensive zone.

What the up and coming defenceman lacked in terms of offence in the NHL, he gained back in his AHL play, producing 23 points in 27 games with Belleville. Sens Prospects made a great highlight reel of Brannstrom’s best plays in the AHL, with his confidence considerably different than his time in the NHL.

With Brannstrom now accumulating significant time in the minors, it’s to be expected that he may officially be ready to make the jump many envision him to make.

Does Brannstrom Start Opening Day in 2020-21?

While he did make the opening day roster last season, Brannstrom did spend most of 2020 with Belleville so, is the budding star ready to start the season with Ottawa again?

With the Senators likely to be inactive in free agency again this offseason, it’s expected to be a similar situation. With the only unrestricted free agents on the roster being veterans Ron Hainsey and Mark Borowiecki, most expect Ottawa to bring at least one of them back. With Christian Wolanin returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the majority of last season, he should claim a spot on the defensive core.

light. Trending. Ranking the top 31 Prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft: 5. Lucas Raymond

Brannstrom will most likely have a battle on his hands for the fifth and sixth spots, likely against Christian Jaros, Mike Reilly and the newly signed Artem Zub. While Jaros is most likely to occupy a spot in the AHL or be a 7th defenceman with the big club, Zub is an interesting case. Signed to a one-year $1.775 million contract, the 24-year old Russian defenceman is likely to have an inside track to make the NHL roster. That most likely leaves Mike Reilly and Brannstrom battling for the final spot and if the talented prospect shows he belongs, there’s no way that the journeyman Reilly prevents him from reaching the opening day roster.

Ottawa would likely prefer Brannstrom play a top-4 role with the team, rather than sinking to the bottom pairing. While the talented defenceman is a left-handed shot, he’s shown the ability to play on his off-side and its a position he would rather be placed in.

Due to the instant results from playing him on the right side, he could form a potential pairing with Christian Wolanin or form a dynamic, exciting tandem alongside star Thomas Chabot. Whether Ottawa chooses to play Brannstrom on the left or right, the rewards on his off-side play shouldn’t be overshadowed just because of his handedness.

Playing in the top-4 and quarterbacking the second power-play unit would be an ideal situation to start the season for the soon to be 21-year old defenceman and one Ottawa shouldn’t shy away from.