When you select a potential top-pairing, game-changing defenseman as the fourth blue liner taken in the draft, it’s a steal.
So, you could say the Vegas Golden Knights got a steal when they selected Erik Brannstrom 15th overall.
The 17-year-old Swedish defenseman immediately steps in as one of the Golden Knights top prospects and could be the best defenseman of his draft class.
Still undervalued by traditional scouting due to his size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), it’s Brannstrom's skating ability that sets him apart from other prospects. The most underrated part of Brannstrom's game is how effectively he uses that ability on the defensive end.
A look at the tape
I'm no scout. I don't even get to play one on TV. But, the tape shows that there is a lot in Brannstrom’s defensive game worth getting excited over.
Brannstrom uses his skating to maintain good gap control, elite hockey IQ to judge angles and limit space to keep attacking forwards on the perimeter. He has an active stick that is adept at knocking pucks loose, and even his body, undersized though it may be, makes life difficult for the opposition.
Contrary to what one might think, the diminutive defenseman doesn’t shy away from contact. When the situation arises, he uses his body effectively to close off an opponent from the puck. In the corners, he plays with a tenacity.
Brannstrom wants the puck, and he'll work to get it.
Once he has it, Brannstrom turns it back up ice quickly and efficiently. His ability to jump in on the rush and carry the puck through all three zones means he has the ability to take over every shift he plays. His good first pass, strong shot, and great vision also means he is the quarterback every power play needs.
Kind of like Erik Karlsson. Who was also taken at No. 15 in his draft year (2008). Coincidence? I doubt it!
I know you saw the title and are probably wondering where the comparison with Ryan Ellis comes into play.
Consider for a moment the scouting report on Ellis:
The common refrain heard throughout the league is that if Ellis was just three inches taller, he'd be a sure-fire top-five selection. Unfortunately, in many ways, the NHL is a big man's league and Ellis' dynamic power-play quarterbacking abilities and offensive production may be overshadowed by his lack of height. Ellis has an outstanding shot from the point and is consistently able to jump-start the offense with a well-timed pass or breakout through the defensive zone. He has also worked on his defensive abilities (leading the team at plus-52) and has drawn praise for his effort and leadership.
You could copy and paste Brannstrom's name into Ellis' scouting report and you'd probably never find anyone who could tell the difference.
It's a common saying when scouting small, skilled players that if they were only a few inches taller they'd have been drafted higher. Never was this more true than with Brannstrom. Had he been 6-foot-1, he'd have been a top-3 pick.
Instead the Golden Knights were able to pass on him twice themselves before finally selecting him.
He's been dominant in the Swedish junior leagues, scoring 19 points in 24 J18 Allsvenskan games, 16 points in 17 J18 Elit games, and 53 points in 61 SuperElit games in his career. He'll continue to develop in the top Swedish men's league (SHL) where he's already played 38 games before the age of 18. This can only help his development.
Brannstrom will need to add a little weight and continue developing his defensive game, but soon we could see him taking his first steps to becoming a game-changing defenseman.
Not bad for the No. 15 pick.