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Erik Brannstrom Selected In CHL Import Draft By Brandon Wheat Kings

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.

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.

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Who We’re Watching At Development Camp (2018)

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.

Zach Whitecloud

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.

Jimmy Schuldt

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.

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Offseason Outlook: Defensemen

Through the course of the playoffs, the surprise unit for the Golden Knights were the defensemen. They completely shut down the Kings, they stifled the Sharks, and they bent but didn’t break against the Jets. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, it kind of fell apart for the Vegas blueliners.

So, as we head into the offseason the burning question for George McPhee and the Golden Knights front office is whether or not they need to add to bolster their defense or of the missing piece is already on the roster.

Here’s a look at who the Golden Knights currently have under their control.

Nate looks like he’s become a star in the NHL. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Established and Signed
Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt

While this list contains 310 games played and three players who played all 20 playoff games, there are really only two fully reliable options as full-time starters moving into 2018-19. McNabb and Schmidt are expected to be stalwarts on the Golden Knights blue line this season and moving forward. They may not be paired together again next season, but they’ll certainly be in the top four.

Engelland is a bit of a mystery as he probably had the best season of his career at the age of 35. The question is can he continue playing at that consistent level as he heads into the final few seasons of his career.

Then there are Merrill and Hunt. Hunt is a player that’s bounced around the NHL and AHL and has never really gotten a full-time shot to prove himself. The reason for that is because he’s a bit of a liability defensively due to his size. He’ll have to play well in camp once again to make the roster, but even if he doesn’t, Hunt will be a good option in the event that a puck-moving defenseman becomes unavailable during the season. Merrill is a bit of a different story as he’s more of a defensive-minded player but has the ability to pinch in and help out offensively. The Golden Knights signed Merrill to an extension last season which indicates they believe in him, but it’s still not probable that he’s a 60+ game defenseman next season.

Established and under VGK control
Colin Miller, Shea Theodore

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Rookies Considered “Long Shots” To Make The Roster Next Season

As Development Camp approaches, “when will these guys play in the NHL” is bound to become the prevailing topic du jour. However, the general manager of the team has been preaching a message of patience.

Those are probably long shots (to make the roster next year). We did a real good job drafting them and that’s the first thing you have to do and the second thing you have to do is develop them properly. – George McPhee

Cody Glass (2017, #6 overall) and Nick Suzuki (2017, #13 overall) both recorded over 100 points in juniors a year ago. Both are likely to make the jump to the AHL in 2018.

UPDATE: CHL/AHL/NHL rules do not allow Glass or Suzuki to play in the AHL next season. Both are too young. So, like this season, if either do not make the NHL roster out of camp, they will be returned to their junior team and cannot join the NHL roster until their junior season is complete.

Brannstrom might have the most experience against men, but Glass could easily turn out to be the closest to ready. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Erik Brannstrom (2017, #15 overall) played his entire season in the professional league in Sweden and was one of the final cuts on the Swedish World Championship team at the age of 19. He may be the most “pro-ready” but defenseman usually take a bit longer to make it to the NHL.

Finally, Nic Hague (2017, #34 overall) was named the best defenseman in the entire CHL. This award has been previously won by Ryan Ellis, Karl Alzner, Dougie Hamilton, and Ivan Provorov. The problem for Hague is that due to his size he projects as a much more “stay-at-home” style player and his defensive skating skill is likely not ready to go against the stars of the NHL.

It’s a steep climb for all four of these Golden Knights prospects to make the team and while McPhee isn’t expecting it, he’s at least open-minded to the idea.

They’re going to have to be really really good to make this club… They are young guys and you are stepping into a league with guys with families and everything else. Sometimes it’s like taking a kid from 8th grade and putting him in 12th grade. It doesn’t always work. -McPhee

Development Camp begins June 26th at City National Arena. (For the full scheudule click through)

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#4, #20, And #23 For The Golden Knights In Button’s Top 25 Prospects

A few hours ago TSN released its annual list of the top 5o prospects in the NHL. It should come as no surprise that the Golden Knights are well represented on that list after having three picks in the top 15 in last year’s Entry Draft.

Picked 6th, now ranked 4th. He’s Cody Glass. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Coming in ranked the highest for the Golden Knights is Cody Glass, the 6th overall pick in the draft. He’s now ranked #4 by TSN. Glass has been absolutely tearing up the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks tallying 69 points in just 45 games.

Next up is the diminutive Swedish defenseman, Erik Brannstrom who was ranked #20. Brannstrom wowed at Development Camp here in Vegas before going on to win the silver medal with Team Sweden at the IIHF World Juniors. He’s currently playing in the Swedish Elite League which does not have a maximum age restriction meaning he’s playing in a league much closer to the NHL than Canadian Juniors. Therefore, his numbers (0 goals, 8 assists, 35 GP) don’t look nearly as impressive. However, the “un-forecheck-able” defenseman certainly looks like he’ll be a major piece on the Golden Knights future blue line.

Last but certainly not least is the man who ranks #23 on the TSN list, Nick Suzuki. Suzuki has nearly identical numbers to Glass putting up an equal 25 goals and just two fewer assists (42) than his fellow first round pick. Suzuki tends to put up highlight goals and assists as his hands are simply on another level. Look…

https://twitter.com/OHLHockey/status/960211668394434560

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Erik Brannstrom: “He’s Impossible To Forecheck”

“Anybody that wants to scout with a tape measure is going to make big mistakes.” -Craig Button (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brian Idziak)

The IIHF World Juniors tournament begins today with a pair of Golden Knights draft picks set to suit up for Team Sweden. The 15th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft defenseman Erik Brannstrom and 5th round pick (#127) forward Lukas Elvenes will play for one of the tournament favorites. (UPDATE: Elvenes was removed from the roster prior to the tournament.)

We’ve fawned over Brannstrom since the moment we first got to watch him take the ice at the Las Vegas Ice Center for the Golden Knights Development Camp. Then he wowed at the Summer Showcase in Detroit about a month later. This season he’s been playing in the Swedish Elite League with HV71.

You thought we were excited about Brannstrom, look at what TSN’s Craig Button had to say on the Golden Knights official podcast “Sherrif, Lawless and Some Guy Named Dave.”

Erik is an unbelievable player. When you watch the game, he’s impossible to forecheck because he’s so quick with his mind and his feet that you can’t get in on him. So what does that do, that backs everybody off. Then you get him in transition, he’s quick, he’s fast, he can make plays on the move. Then you put him in the offensive zone, unbelievable poise, unbelievable vision, the ability to make passes under sticks through skates, create all kinds of scoring chances, and he does everything on the move. Nothing about Erik Brannstrom is pre-ordained, so he sees an opening, bang he takes it. So if he’s going to read off the play, how the heck are you able to defend against him when he’s not sure what he’s going to do because he’s going to take what’s given to him. He’s an elite elite player and this is an elite tournament. So I expect him to be like I always see him, right at the upper level of players in this tournament. You know what else he’s got too, he’s got tremendous confidence. There’s nothing he thinks that he can’t do in the game and that’s significant. -Craig Button, TSN Scout

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Would Dominating Even Be Enough For Rookies

Training camp starts this week with a few “informal” practices today, tomorrow, and Wednesday before the 23-man rookie roster formally begin training camp on Thursday.

But as the rookies get set to hit the ice, the burning question remains for a team in a unique situation being the first expansion team in the salary cap era?

Could a Cody Glass or Nicolas Hague or any other draft pick make this team? Absolutely. But they’d have to come into camp and dominate. To be the best at their position and to prove they can continue to excel once the regular season begins. And to stay at that level when the pace increases at Christmas and then again down the stretch as it does in the NHL every season. –Gary Lawless, VGK Insider

Absolutely a rookie from the 2017 Draft can make the roster out of camp says Lawless.

I’m here to say, the correct answer is absolutely not.

The reasoning is quite simple. In the NHL when players are drafted they are signed to entry level contracts. These contracts are three years in length (assuming the player is 21 or younger), but they do not begin until the player plays more than nine NHL games in a season.

So, if a player makes the team out of camp, the clock immediately starts ticking towards restricted free agency and his next, much larger, contract. In a normal situation, especially for teams ready to compete, that’s just fine because the player can help the team win. But for a team like the Golden Knights, who realistically aren’t winning much this year, the benefit of having a rookie on the roster is heavily outweighed by the option of “sliding” his contract to next year.

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Erik Brannstrom, Olympian?

If you happened to miss last week’s World Junior Summer Showcase then you really need to start following us on Twitter missed quite the showing from one of the Golden Knights’ three first round draft picks. Luckily, we were on full Erik Brannstrom watch, and boy was it something to watch.

Oh, he wasn’t done dishing.

Let’s face it, we’re Brann-addicts. (Holy balls this nickname is terrible, someone please come up with something better.) We want more, we want more. What made our jaws-drop last week is seeing Brannstrom’s dominance, and then realizing he’s still developing. Which creates a major epidemic of Brannstrom withdrawal. Luckily, the 17-year-old, he’ll be 18 in less than a month, defenseman will be back in Las Vegas later this summer. After camp, who knows how long before fans get to watch the puck-moving defenseman again.

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McPhee’s First Round Draft Success Rate

When we examined George McPhee’s draft history months ago, we found he favored first-round centers over any other position. In 17 prior entry drafts, McPhee drafted eight top-round centers. His first draft with the Golden Knights was no different, he drafted two first round centers. While we wait for Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki to develop let’s look into McPhee’s first-round center success rate.

In Washington, McPhee made 20 first-round picks in 17 drafts. Add his latest first-round picks, and McPhee has now personally drafted 23 first round prospects in 18 drafts. (No first round picks in 1998, 2001, 2011)

Center – 10
Right Wing – 3
Left Wing – 2
Defenseman – 7
Goaltender – 1

McPhee’s first entry draft as Golden Knights GM shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Drafting Glass and Suzuki were conventional selections for the Vegas GM. Drafting Erik Brannstrom in the first-round was also right on par for McPhee. In Washington, three of his six defensive prospects Nick Boynton, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, became solid NHL players. Vegas fans should feel optimistic McPhee’s success rate got better, as he became more experienced. As a reminder, here’s GM McPhee’s full first round draft history.

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GOLDEN KNIGHTS SIGN 1ST ROUND PICKS CODY GLASS (F), NICK SUZUKI (F), AND ERIK BRANNSTROM (D) TO ENTRY LEVEL CONTRACTS

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