Ottawa Senators: Erik Brannstrom Deserves a Fair Shot

Erik Brannstrom #26 of the Ottawa Senators (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Finally healthy and back in the Senators lineup, the talented defenceman deserves some playing time

Ever since being acquired as the key piece of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom has struggled to find a consistent spot in the lineup during his time in the nation’s capital, despite his play clearly exceeding some of his peers. The pure disconnect between the Senators and the word “rebuilding” is puzzling, last season D.J. Smith and staff continuously sat Brannstrom in favour of “veteran” players who offered little to nothing on the ice, losing ice-time to Braydon Coburn and Josh Brown when a team is in the middle of a rebuild is not even questionable, it’s just dead wrong.

However, Brannstrom got significant ice-time near the end of the 2020-21 season, and he showed a ton of potential playing with Artem Zub on the second-pairing. The 22-year-old offensive defenceman finished the season with 2 goals and 13 points in 30 games along with a solid +3 rating, while also boasting tremendous underlying numbers.

It appeared that Brannstrom had earned himself a spot on the team for the following season, but that inclination would come crumbling down with the signing of journeyman defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who was essentially brought in to take the young defenceman’s job. Due to the Del Zotto signing, the Senators sent Brannstrom down because of the team’s surplus of one-way contracts, his two-way contract made him a candidate for Belleville, while Del Zotto sat in the press box in favour of a struggling Victor Mete, laughable. At the start of the season, it was clear that the team valued Del Zotto and others over Brannstrom, which shouldn’t make any sense to even the most casual fan. A broken hand sidelined Brannstrom for the better part of a month, but he’s back after being activated off IR on December 29th.

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Now back with the big club, and despite the Senators 6-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I thought Brannstrom was one of the team’s better players, and the offensive dimension he brings to the back end, should compliment a d-core that doesn’t provide much offence or mobility outside of Thomas Chabot. Brannstrom could also quarterback the Senators second power-play unit, which has struggled mightily. Del Zotto was waived at the beginning of December in a move that signalled a team switch to “development mode”.

If D.J. Smith follows this statement there should be no reason for Brannstrom to sit in the press box for another game this season, it’s clear as day that the Swedish defenceman has done everything to warrant significant NHL time. Even if the coaching staff still isn’t enthused with Brannstrom, the least they could do is value their asset by giving him NHL games to showcase his talent to other NHL team’s.

The remainder of this season is an excellent opportunity for the Senators to evaluate what they have, without making any rash decisions that could extend the timeline of the rebuild.