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Golden Knights prospect Brannstrom ready for next step on big stage with Sweden

He’s got the moves and mobility, now the crafty ‘D’ needs to use the green light.
Rena Laverty

Rena Laverty

Erik Brannstrom is only 5-foot-10, but he’s well on his way to becoming a big-time, high-skill defenseman in the NHL.

The 19-year-old Swede’s slick skating and puckhandling already stand out in his rookie AHL season with the Chicago Wolves. Brannstrom, drafted 15th overall by Vegas in 2017, has made the jump effortlessly after coming over from HV71 of the Swedish League.

The Golden Knights’ top A-list prospect on the blueline, Brannstrom flashed his ability at Vegas’ training camp but was sent to Chicago for seasoning. Then he got hurt in the Wolves’ second game when he was slammed into the boards by Sergei Boikov of the Colorado Eagles.

But Brannstrom recovered quickly and has quarterbacked the Wolves from the blueline at even strength and on the power play. The native of Eksjo, Sweden, can wheel and dish the puck with panache and precision. Chicago coach Rocky Thompson is impressed with Brannstrom’s poise with the puck and rapid acclimation to the AHL. “Playing pro in North America is a different animal than the Swedish League,” Thompson said. “He’s learning the power-play position, working the top, doing a good job. He makes mistakes, like everybody does, and he’s learning from those, but I’m really happy with his progress.”

Through 17 games with the Wolves, Brannstrom had three goals and 13 points, tied for tops among AHL rookie defensemen with Utica’s Olli Juolevi, whose NHL rights belong to Vancouver. Brannstrom is focused on advancing his game in the AHL with the goal of moving up to Vegas. “I want to play with the puck and make good plays,” he said. “It feels better and better. I’m happy to be out there and make an impact on the game.”

Thompson believes Brannstrom will improve as he learns to “activate more into the rush” without the puck. “We give our defensemen freedom to join as a forward where they can drive the net,” Thompson said. “He really hasn’t grasped hold of that yet, but you see glimpses of it. I think it can take his game offensively to another level.”

Unlike some defensemen of his ilk and age, Brannstrom isn’t a liability when the other team has the puck. Thompson said he’s done “a great job in how he’s defending off the rush and in our own end.”

Brannstrom uses his quickness and hockey sense to compensate on defense for his lack of size. “I’m not tall, so I need to be a step ahead all the time,” he said.

Brannstrom gets his skill and instinct from solid hockey roots. His father, Niklas, played professionally for 16 seasons in Sweden and Germany. Older brother Isac is a forward for HV71, in Jonkoping in Sweden’s southern province of Smaland. “We were with my dad on practices when we were kids, so it’s been all hockey in the family,” Brannstrom said.

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