This kid is going to be a star. It’s just a matter of when. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Following a four-goal in five-game performance at the World Junior Championship as captain of Team Sweden, Erik Brannstrom was named by the media to the tournament All Star team.
Along with Canadiens draft pick Alexander Romanov, Brannstrom now finds himself on a pretty darn impressive list. Here are the players who have been named to the same All Star team while they played in the World Junior Championship.
Dion Phaneuf *
Ryan Suter *
Kris Letang *!
Drew Doughty *^!
Victor Hedman *^
Erik Karlsson *^
P. K. Subban *^
Alex Pietrangelo *
John Carlson !
Dmitry Orlov !
*NHL All Star ^Norris Trophy !Stanley Cup Winner
Look at the names on that list! Doughty, Karlsson, Subban, Carlson, Hedman, Letang, Pietrangelo, Trouba, and it goes on and on. Even names from recent years like Thomas Chabot, Charlie McEvoy, and Rasmus Dahlin have already had major impacts at the NHL level.
Time for a new excuse as to why this kid isn’t in the NHL yet. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Small, skilled, puck-moving defensemen are the future of the NHL. Just look at the 2018 Draft when five guys 6’0″ or shorter went in the first round. Currently in the NHL, guys like Erik Karlsson (5’11”), Ryan Ellis (5’10”), Torey Krug (5’9″), Sam Girard (5’10”), and Jared Spurgeon (5’9″) have all become stalwarts on their respective team’s bluelines.
The Golden Knights have a player that fits the same mold, his name is Erik Brannstrom. In his first 14 games in the AHL, Brannstrom has recorded 12 points including three goals and has only failed to record a point in four of those 14 games. Yet still, he has yet to get the call from George McPhee and many still use the phrase “too small” as a reason for him to keep “cooking” in the minor league.
Chicago head coach Rocky Thompson joined the SinBin.vegas Podcast to chat a bit about Brannstrom, as well as a few other Wolves and his aggressive pulling of the goalie techniques. (The whole interview can be found at the end of this article) I asked him, point blank, if Brannstrom’s smaller frame has cropped up as an issue, specifically while defending in his own end.
Not at all actually. He’s not going to be a bully in our own end… but he can break cycles, he just breaks it in a different way. He’s been really really coachable. He’s +4, he’s very rarely when we log our chances against, the cause of the chance against. -Rocky Thompson, Chicago Wolves head coach
We haven’t taken the time to log every scoring chance, but we have logged how often Brannstrom is on the ice when the Wolves concede goals. In the 14 games in which he’s played, he’s only been on the ice for 15.6% of the goals Chicago has allowed. Of the 45 goals allowed, Brannstrom has been on the ice for 7 of them.
His ability, once he does interrupt a cycle to transition with the puck and to get out of our own (is great). Sometimes the best way to defend is to not defend overly long, so when he is forced into those situations he’s really made huge steps in how he plays those and being able to interrupt those and that does translate to the next level. -Thompson
On the flip side, Brannstrom has been on the ice for 40.8% of the Wolves goals, 20 of 49. Thompson says he’s even coming along on some of the offensive areas the team has wanted him to work on.
It still feels like Hague has a bit of ground to make up on Brannstrom, but there’s plenty of time to do it and the roster spot is open for someone to take. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
With just under two weeks left before Opening Night, the Golden Knights still have three young defensemen still in camp competing for a spot on the roster.
Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague, and Jake Bischoff have distanced themselves from the pack and with Nate Schmidt suspended and Shea Theodore likely to miss the start of the season, it appears a roster spot or two is open for a rookie.
Brannstrom will play in his fourth consecutive preseason game paired with veteran Nick Holden tonight. Hague and Bishoff will each play in their third, paired with each other in all three.
Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant was asked in today’s press conference if he and the organization prefer to have a player playing in the AHL rather than a healthy scratch on the NHL roster. He essentially passed on that question saying it’s George McPhee’s decision but did offer something of note when pressed further.
It’s always been we’re taking our best players. It’s not like the situation we had last year, if that’s what your trying to get to, it’s not like that situation, we want to win it’s a completely different scenario than it was last year. -Gerard Gallant
Last year the Golden Knights were expected to be among the worst teams in the NHL, and they were managed that way as well. Rather than risk losing a player on waivers, they sent Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore to the AHL to start out the season. There was also the Vadim Shipachyov situation. It ended up resulting in Jason Garrison and Griffin Reinhart on the opening night roster.
This year, however, especially with Schmidt and Theodore missing, there’s a different feeling to how the initial roster will be constructed. At this point, it seems inevitable that at least one of Brannstrom, Hague or Bischoff will make the team.
The leader appears to be Brannstrom, but Hague has been electric on the power play, and Bischoff appears to be the most responsible of the bunch. There are still four preseason games and about a week of practices left for McPhee, Gallant, and company to make the call, but you can pretty much go to the bank with the idea that there will be a rookie defenseman on the roster come October 4th.
(Unless Shea Theodore signs and returns to camp between now and then.)
We are now over a week into training camp and have seen a pair of preseason games in which 32 different skaters have taken the ice for the Golden Knights. The impending suspension of Nate Schmidt and the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games with the contract negotiations has the blue line wide open heading into October 4th.
I like carrying eight defensemen and we’ve done it because some of the young guys weren’t really ready to be called up, so we wanted to carry eight. We’re carrying eight again next year. The good news is, we’ve got guys that can be called up this year. -George McPhee
Of course, there are still nearly three weeks of practice and six preseason games to sort it all out, but let’s take a look at how we think it shakes out as we speak.
This is a ranking of each defenseman in the Golden Knights system by the current level of play. This does not take into account things like suspension, holdout, waiver exempt status, contract, or likelihood to make the roster. These are my rankings, not necessarily how I believe the team would rank the players. (Nonetheless, admittedly, a lot of my beliefs come from decisions made by the front office and coaching staff on players.)
1) Nate Schmidt
Nate is in a class of his own on the Golden Knights blue line. He’s the only player currently even close to being considered a 1A defenseman, and even that can be debated either way. However, with the suspension, he’s unavailable for 20 games, so he won’t be an option for the Golden Knights come October 4th.
2) Brayden McNabb
Looking back on the contract, McNabb was an absolute steal for George McPhee. With Schmidt’s absence, McNabb will step into the role as the Golden Knights top defenseman. He’ll be relied upon to stop the opposing teams’ best players night in and night out for the first month and a half and will be the key penalty-killing defenseman as well. McNabb is much maligned at times, but the guy is a legit high-end shutdown defenseman and when paired with the right player, he and his partner can shine.
3) Colin Miller
Yes, Miller is rated above Theodore, and not because Theodore is not in camp, but because Miller is the more complete player at this moment. Give it a few years and Theodore will probably soar past him, but right now Miller has become acceptable (and probably even more than that) in his own end and he’s an absolute weapon in the offensive zone. He boasts the hardest shot on the team and he’s bound to have a mega offensive season playing a much more prominent role than a year ago.
The road to winning a roster spot really starts tonight. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Top billing for the Golden Knights first preseason game of 2018 will likely go to Max Pacioretty. The newest Golden Knight will be making his T-Mobile debut wearing “the shield” as he put it. Many other eyes will be focused on William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault returning to the ice together for the first time since June. But the real headliner for this preseason game isn’t any of those three, we know where they’ll all end up. No, the real headliner is Erik Brannstrom who will be stepping onto the T-Mobile ice for his first officially sanctioned NHL game.
Brannstrom was the third of the Golden Knights three first round picks in 2017, but he’s risen, at least in my eyes, to become the clear favorite as the top prospect in Vegas’ somewhat stacked system. With the suspension of Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore still not in camp due to contract negotiations, the Golden Knights blueline is wide open with roster spots. Brannstrom, who just turned 19, dominated in the rookie games and he’s looked very good in the couple of scrimmages he’s played with the veterans.
He’s learning every day, I think he’s learning and play without the puck I’ve noticed a difference from our first game to tonight’s game. Not giving up as many opportunities without the puck, having better reads and this is only in a short period of time. This is a 72-hour period I’ve noticed a change. -Rocky Thompson, Chicago Wolves coach, following rookie game #3
However, doing it at City National Arena and doing it in T-Mobile Arena are different animals sometimes. Brannstrom is part of a defense group of Nic Hague, Nick Holden, Brad Hunt, Colin Miller, and Jake Bischoff. Brannstrom needs to stand out, every single game he’s on the ice if he wants to make the roster. Impressing GM of the Year George McPhee and Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant enough for them to forego a young player’s waiver exempt status is a tall task. We’ll see if Brannstrom can get it done, but one thing we do know is he’s already impressed his teammates.
Yesterday it seemed nearly impossible for Brannstrom to make the roster. Today, it’s absolutely realistic. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. -Albert Einstein
Yep, started an article with an Einstein quote, deal with it. But seriously, that quote could not be more perfect for Erik Brannstrom, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague.
Prior to the suspension of Nate Schmidt, the Golden Knights appeared to have a bit of a logjam of defensemen which was going to make it nearly impossible for a waiver exempt player to win a job out of the training camp. However, with Schmidt out 20 games, and the potential of Shea Theodore missing games due to contract negotiations, all of a sudden at least one spot appears to be wide open for one of the Golden Knights young blueliners.
Whitecloud is the obvious leading candidate to claim that roster spot being the eldest of the trio and having spent over three months with the team during the playoff run a year ago. Whitecloud is also a physically mature 21-year-old who plays a fairly responsible defensive game suitable to fit into an NHL roster.
That being said, Brannstrom and Hague suddenly enter camp with a much more realistic shot of sticking in Vegas rather than heading to Chicago come October 4th. Brannstrom will have to prove he’s trustworthy and isn’t the insanely high risk-reward player we’ve come to know him as, and Hague will have to prove he can skate with NHL caliber wingers.
The question will come down to usage. In order to make it worthwhile for any of these three players to be on the NHL roster, they’ll have to prove they should be in the lineup, not just on the team. There’s no sense in putting a waiver-exempt player in the press box when he could be developing in the AHL.
Unlike the scenario Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore found themselves in last year, where despite clearly being among the top 23 players on the team they were not given spots on the NHL roster, Whitecloud, Brannstrom, and Hague (and you can throw in Coghlan, Bischoff, and Oligny if you please) simply have to prove they’re good enough to play in the NHL and they’ll be on the roster.
It’s a tall task, no doubt, but this year is a lot different than last year… at least for the defenseman. Sorry, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Lucas Elvenes, and Tomas Hyka the forward spots are almost certainly not going to anyone with waiver-exempt status.
The biggest event in City National Arena history starts on September 8th. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The Golden Knights practice facility, City National Arena will host a six-team, three-day “tournament” featuring top NHL prospects. The six teams participating are the Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. It’s being called the Vegas Rookie Faceoff.
Each team will play three games with all nine games being held at City National Arena. Games will be played on September 8th, 9th, and 11th with the Golden Knights rookies taking on the Avalanche, Sharks, and Kings.
Here’s the full schedule for the event.
Saturday, Sept. 8 Game 1 – ARI vs. SJS, 3 p.m. PT Game 2 – LAK vs. ANA, 5 p.m. PT Game 3 – COL vs. VGK, 7 p.m. PT
Sunday, Sept. 9 Game 1 – LAK vs. ARI, 3 p.m. PT Game 2 – COL vs. ANA, 5 p.m. PT Game 3 – VGK vs. SJS, 7 p.m. PT
Tuesday, Sept. 11 Game 1 – ANA vs. ARI, 11 a.m. PT Game 2 – SJS vs. COL, 11:30 a.m. PT Game 3 – LAK vs. VGK, 2:30 p.m. PT
Rookie tournaments are fairly common in the NHL as they offer a chance for teams to play games against different opponents in a short period of time without having to travel. The Red Wings have hosted a tournament in Traverse City, MI for the past 20 years and includes eight teams. Toronto and Buffalo host similar tournaments as well.
Last year the Golden Knights traveled to El Segundo to play a pair of rookie games against the Los Angeles Kings.
Ticket information has not yet been released for the Vegas Rookie Faceoff. However, fans interested in tickets can fill out this contact form to be alerted when they are available.
The games are expected to be available either on TV and/or via Internet stream, but details have not been announced at this point.
These games will be an excellent opportunity for fans to see Golden Knights top prospects, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom, and Nic Hague. Plus, the 5th overall pick from 2018, Barrett Hayton (ARI), the 4th overall pick from 2017, Cale Makar (COL) and the 3rd overall pick from 2015, Dylan Strome (ARI) are expected to participate. Other top prospects like Gabe Vilardi (LAK), Kale Clague (LAK), Sam Steel (ANA), Vladislav Kamenev (COL), Conor Timmins (COL), and Ryan Merkley (SJS) should all play as well.
Hopefully, the Vegas Rookie Faceoff becomes an annual thing because it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Wolves, HV71, and now the Brandon Wheat Kings. Brannstrom has options. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Erik Brannstrom was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights with the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Unlike many of the other top picks, Brannstrom has been playing in the Swedish Hockey League, a professional hockey league without any age requirements. In other words, he’s been playing against grown men while Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Nic Hague, and most of the other picks have been playing against kids.
The expectation for Brannstrom, if he doesn’t make the NHL team, was for him to play this season in North America, likely in the AHL. That may have changed early this morning morning when a new option opened up.
Interesting: The Brandon Wheat Kings just drafted 2017 15th overall pick Erik Brannstrom (VGK) in the CHL import draft. Not sure if that's the first option for him next season or if they'd prefer him in the AHL, but safety net there to ease him into North America if needed.
The CHL Import Draft is a yearly draft in which Canadian junior teams can select eligible non-North American born players to potentially add to their rosters for the upcoming season. Brannstrom was the 44th pick to the Wheat Kings.
His mind is not on the CHL though.
No, I wouldn’t say that (it was on my mind). Obviously, my goal is to play for the Vegas Golden Knights next season so we’ll see after that what happens. -Erik Brannstrom
He seemed a bit surprised he had even been selected.
The likelihood of Brannstrom making the NHL roster out of camp still remains fairly low. With the selection of Brannstrom in the CHL, there are now three options of where he could play in the likely event he’s not on the 23-man Golden Knights roster.
Option A: Return to Sweden and play with HV71
Pros: Continue to play in a professional league against men
Cons: Continue to play on a larger sheet of ice than NHL regulation size, unavailable to Golden Knights until season is completed
Option B: Go to the AHL and play for the Chicago Wolves
Pros: Play professionally against men, be available (waiver exempt) to the Golden Knights all season long
Cons: Playing time may be limited, paid for by VGK
Option C: Go to the CHL and play for the Brandon Wheat Kings
Pros: Play on NHL regulation-size rink, play against many top NHL draft picks
Cons: Playing against all players under the age of 22, possibly too talented to continue developing as a defenseman, unavailable to Golden Knights until season is completed
Option C doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and if it were any team other than the Wheat Kings it would (and probably should) be laughed off as the CHL team taking a shot in the dark hoping he’d have a change of heart. However, because it’s Brandon, which is owned by Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon, the option has to be taken seriously. Clearly, the Wheat Kings took Brannstrom for a reason and odds are a conversation with McCrimmon occurred before the selection.
Four of a Kind (Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague)
href=”http://sinbin.vegas/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/VGKCamp172.jpg”> It’s going to take a lot, but this year McPhee may actually consider giving a roster spot to a rookie. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)[/
The question for these four is if any of them are ready to take the next step to play in the NHL next season. George McPhee called it a long shot that any of the four make the roster, but if they are going to, the path starts now. They’d have to clearly rise above everyone else to even have a chance. Last year, Brannstrom was the most impressive, but the junior seasons of Glass, Suzuki, and Hague give hope they’ll come in and shine this week.
Whitecloud has a chance to be this year’s Alex Tuch. Last year the 21-year-old Tuch looked like a man amongst boys at Development Camp and it began his path to earning a spot on the Golden Knights roster full time. As it currently stands, there does look to be a spot open for Whitecloud to slide into, but he has to be great starting this week to get it. Whitecloud won’t be the oldest player in camp, but it needs to look like he is. He should be without question the most pro-ready player at Development Camp. By the time the week is out, making sure that is clear would go a long way to McPhee penciling him into the plans to start out next season.
Many of the players at Development Camp for the Golden Knights are not under Vegas’ control, Schuldt is the most intriguing of them all. Like Whitecloud was a year ago, Schuldt is one of the most coveted undrafted NCAA free agents and will be free to sign with any team when his next season at St. Cloud University is over. A Hobey Baker finalist, he’s an offensive-minded defenseman who was the captain of his team as a junior.
Last year at this time he was in the Montreal Canadiens Development Camp and the Habs have reportedly been keeping their eyes on Schuldt ever since. McPhee proved a year ago that he’s willing to sign a player like Schuldt and hand him an immediate roster spot right out of college. Being invited to Vegas’ camp is a good sign the Golden Knights like the player and may consider signing him when he’s eligible. However, coming to camp doesn’t always mean you have a leg up on signing the player. Zach Whitecloud was in Kings camp last year, and we all know how that worked out.