I’m going to start this piece by saying I am a big fan of Erik Brannstrom and have tremendously enjoyed watching his game develop, pretty much growing each and every game. With that being said, it’s time to discuss what should happen with him long-term. Has he played himself out of the Ottawa Senators’ price point?
Erik Brannstrom was acquired in the Mark Stone trade mid-rebuild. At the time of the trade, Brannstrom was regarded as a can’t-miss blue-chip prospect. It’s taken some time for Brannstrom to crack the NHL full-time, but now that he’s here, he hasn’t necessarily become the 50-60 point defenseman expected at the time, but that’s not a bad thing. Brannstrom is an offense-first defenseman, who somehow does not get points. It’s hilarious. He’s a great skater who is able to make a great breakout pass and walk the line in a great way to contribute as a playmaker from the back end. Unfortunately for Branny, his playmaking does not often result in a goal, mostly due to rotten luck. As per the eye test, he’s been amongst Ottawa’s best in terms of quarterbacking the offensive side of the game and saw touches on the powerplay. On the defensive side of things, he’s actually also been one of Ottawa’s best in terms of defenseman. Also, his 103 blocked shots were fourth on the entire team, which is kind of unheard of for a small offense first d-man.
The thing with Brannstrom is, he’s kind of in a tough spot in terms of where he belongs on the depth chart. As his ice time climbed, his play got better and better., Unfortunately, he will probably never be much more than a third-pairing defenseman as a left-shot defenseman behind guys like Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson. You could argue that he’d be an option on the right side, but he’d still be on the third pair on that side of things as he’d be playing behind Artem Zub and Jakob Chychrun (who’s already playing on his offside). I think it can be agreed that Brannstrom is too good to rot away on the third pair, and not being the top option for either powerplay unit as Chabot and Sanderson have first dibs, followed by Chychrun. The emergence of Tyler Kleven also raises the question of how long until Kleven surpasses him on the depth chart as well.
On the other hand, Brannstrom provides something the Senators lack a little, and that is versatility. He’s able to play both sides, he’s great at both ends of the ice, and his next cap hit should come in at a lower number. He’s best utilized in the top 4 pairs, but will mainly serve as a bottom pairing guy that can come up the lineup with injury (we all know the Senators have horrible luck with the injury bug). Brannstrom could also see more time on the penalty kill in order to bring his ice time up closer to a top 4 range. Chabot could be taken off the penalty kill in favor of guys like Sanderson, Chychrun, Zub, and Brannstrom. If he were to play on the right side, a pairing of Tyler Kleven and Erik Brannstrom could be a perfect opposites-attract pairing in terms of sizing. Kleven’s massive size and bone-crushing body checks can make up for Brannstrom’s lack of size.
I’m glad I’m not management because this is an incredibly difficult decision to make. On one hand, you want to keep your best players, but on the other, there’s a salary cap and only a certain amount of ice time to go around, it unfortunately probably makes more sense to trade Brannstrom in order to focus on fixing up another area of concern, like goaltending or depth scoring in the bottom 6, maybe you’re able to hit two birds with one stone with using Brannstrom as a trade piece. I’m still undecided as I can see both the positives of keeping him, but also the positives of trading him away.