The Ottawa Senators should be looking for a top-6 forward for their lineup if they want to make bigger strides this season. Names that can easily slide down the lineup and still be effective players include Nick Paul and Connor Brown, who are currently playing with Tim Stutzle while Shane Pinto is on injured reserve.
Erik Brannstrom is caught behind a defensive core that the Senators just recently assembled after his arrival in Ottawa. He was highly touted and looked to possibly get more time this season until the Senators acquired Nick Holden and Michael Del Zotto this offseason. Last season saw Artem Zub and Victor Mete become great pieces and find permanent spots in the lineup. With Thomas Chabot and Nikita Zaitsev in the top-4, there’s just no room left for Brannstrom.
Two years later, the Senators find themselves in a position where they are looking to trade Brannstrom. He will still fetch a good price, though maybe a little less than when they acquired him. We’ve come a long way from general manager Pierre Dorion saying, “All these players are going to be part of this rebuild, and what’s encouraging is these players are going to be in the prime of their career, and we have no intentions of moving any of them.”
Of course, Brannstrom hasn’t hit his prime yet, but it doesn’t look like the Senators are willing to wait with the talent they have available to them right now and the return they can get for a player not currently contributing to their team.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are a team that many underestimate after they continue to lose players. There’s something about a team that plays with a chip on their shoulder constantly. With high-class talent leaving, that opens the door for others to come in and take a spot. Players like Seth Jones and David Savard were crucial pieces on the Blue Jackets blue line, and those voids are up for grabs, not only this season but in the long run.
The Blue Jackets have a very young team, and building on that, they should target Brannstrom from the Senators. He will have a better chance to earn time in this lineup than in Ottawa. I know what you’re thinking; three young defensive prospects that are offensive in one lineup, and it won’t go over well. But what you may not have known is Brannstrom has been praised for his work on the defensive side of the ice.
Head coach D.J. Smith notes how hard it is to learn the defensive side of the game at the NHL level and gives Brannstrom credit for being “ahead of the curve” in that regard (“Ron Hainsey embracing his role helping rookie Erik Brannstrom”, Ottawa Sun, Nov. 2, 2019). Early in his career, his defensive impact was in the 56th percentile for expected goals above replacement (xGAR). Simply put, what he did on the defensive side of the game ranked him better than 56 percent of the NHL defencemen at 21 years old. Surely that, along with how he projects to be offensively in the future, should get the attention of the Blue Jackets.
The team has four options on the back end that shouldn’t go anywhere — Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean, and Vladislav Gavrikov. That leaves the question of if Brannstrom can prove to be more valuable now and in the future than the rest of the defensive depth available to the Blue Jackets. He will have to compete with players like Andrew Peeke, Dean Kukan, Gabriel Carlsson, and Scott Harrington.
Carlsson is only 24 years old but has been stuck between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) since 2016-17, with only 38 games of NHL experience to show for it. Peeke is young as well, but only has 39 NHL games to his name. Harrington is the type of player that will serve his team best as the seventh or eighth defenceman, something he has done his whole career thus far. Kukan, the other 28-year-old on the Blue Jackets blue line, also generally serves as a seventh defenceman. Drafted by the team, he hasn’t been able to break that mould.
Brannstrom can find an opportunity in Columbus and be able to work on his game defensively at the NHL level. With the offensive skill set he possesses, it will start to show eventually.
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The Nashville Predators have been a staple defensively for a long time now. They are known for the defencemen that they either draft and develop or have in their lineup. Names like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Seth Jones, and Samuel Girard have all come from the Predators, including the impactful players still on the roster.
After they traded Ryan Ellis, it freed up a big spot on the back end for the Predators, one they have options to fill. Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are locked in long-term on the left side, but the right side of the defence remains open for competition. They have players like Philippe Myers, Dante Fabbro, and Alexandre Carrier, but Myers has only played three of the seven games this far in the season and was a healthy scratch against the San Jose Sharks last game.
Brannstrom would have to outplay Matt Benning and/or Mark Borowiecki to earn playing time. His ability to play both sides on defence is a bonus while having a better all-around game than either of the two mentioned. Adding Brannstrom has the potential to elevate the pedigree of the Predators’ defence to a point where they can compete for a Stanley Cup sooner than later in front of elite goaltender Juuse Saros. As they say, offence wins games, but defence wins championships. The Predators remember how close they came in 2017 to winning the Cup with their defence-first mentality.
The Vancouver Canucks could be in the market for another young defender with tons of upside after Olli Juolevi didn’t work out. They currently have a good mix of young talent and veterans on their blue line. I see the Canucks as a place where Brannstrom would have a good chance to compete for a spot in the lineup every night.
One thing to highlight about the Canucks is their defence and the ability to defend. As mentioned above with the Blue Jackets, Brannstrom has the ability to not only contribute offensively but play well on the defensive side of the puck. He may be small, but quickness and being good with your stick can be as big of a factor as taking the body.
The Canucks have a great group of young and talented players, and looking to the future, Brannstrom can be part of the leadership group. Dorion said, “In addition to being an exceptional young man with great leadership skills, high character, high talent, his presence on the ice is electric…”
An addition like Brannstrom can be very valuable to future success, and he can compete for a spot in the Canucks’ lineup this season. Right now, Luke Schenn and Kyle Burroughs are filling in on the third pairing on the right side. Brannstrom has the tools to be a much more effective player in that position with room to move up in the lineup. Only Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman would stand in his way. Or he can slot in on the other side as a left-handed player. There would be ample opportunity for Brannstrom in Vancouver, and they should really consider adding a piece like that to their blue line.
There is no guarantee yet that Brannstrom is going to get dealt, and if he is, who knows how soon. An opportunity could present itself in Ottawa with injuries or the ever-present threat of testing positive or a false-positive for COVID-19. He could get himself called up and slotted into the lineup and play at a level that the Senators would think twice about moving on from him so soon. Looking at it another way, that would raise his stock and allow for an even better return and teams to see exactly what they could be getting in a trade.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. As a fantasy hockey veteran, he will be informing you on the best weekly options for your matchups to begin the week and mid-way. He will also keep you in the loop for weekly news and updates on the Oilers & Flyers.