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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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Offseason Outlook: Goaltenders

Never could anyone have imagined the Golden Knights goalie depth would be tested the way it was. Five goalies used in the first 17 games gave George McPhee a pretty solid look at the present and the future of the most important position on the ice.

It would seem not much needs to happen between the pipes for the Golden Knights with Marc-Andre Fleury the clear starter, Malcolm Subban a solid backup and Oscar Dansk plus Maxime Lagace manning the crease in the AHL. However, it’s not that simple, and in fact, McPhee has plenty of decisions in the net not only this offseason but moving forward.

Marc-Andre Fleury

It’s a bit of a shame Fleury will not win any awards after that incredible season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After posting Vezina quality numbers in the regular season and then racing out to become the Conn Smythe favorite before the final series of the playoffs, it appears Fleury’s days as a full-time starter aren’t as numbered as they appeared during the last days in Pittsburgh.

He’s mentioned playing for many more years and recently said he wants to finish his career in Vegas. Fleury has one more season left on his contract scheduled to pay him $5.75 million. Then he would become an unrestricted free agent, something the Golden Knights probably aren’t interested in letting happen.

Things do get a bit tricky though when dealing with the long-term future of a 33-year-old goalie. While it certainly appears his age isn’t getting in the way at this point, that could change at any moment. Signing Fleury to a four or five year deal is risky as his production could slip at any moment, but letting him constantly play on expiring deals keeps the control in the hands of the player rather than the organization.

If Fleury is being completely honest that he wants to finish his career with the Golden Knights, they should play the short-term contract game with him on a gentleman’s agreement that he’ll get a new deal every time he wants one and the price will be fair. There aren’t many players who any GM would be willing to go down that road with, but if there’s one, it’s probably Fleury.

There’s one concern there though, and that’s Pittsburgh. What if they come calling at some point? It’s easy to say he wants to finish his career in Vegas while sitting on stage in the same building as the Campbell Bowl, but if the idea of going back to the Penguins ever became a realistic possibility, he’d likely want to hear it out.

The best course of action for the Golden Knights is likely to keep him one year away from free agency at all times. Extend his contract each offseason so he feels comfortable, while also protecting the organization against the inevitable father time induced decline.

Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk, Max Lagace

Only one of these three players currently has a contract with the Golden Knights and that’s Subban. Dansk remains under Golden Knights control as he’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Lagace is an unrestricted free agent set to hit the open market on July 1st if he doesn’t reach a deal with Vegas before then.

Subban still seems to be the clear #2 behind Fleury, but his injury-riddled season has to bring pause to the organization’s desire to commit to him as the heir-apparent. Subban was hurt once during a game early in the year and then found himself unavailable two more times due to injuries that occurred during practice. Subban missed a majority of the postseason and the team opted to use Lagace as the backup over Dansk.

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Golden Knights In 2020

The Hockey News is doing a series called “2020 Vision” in which they attempt to predict the future of what each NHL team will look like three years from now. Last week, they took on the Golden Knights roster.

Vegas will be weak at center this year and it will likely be a sore spot until Glass takes the throne – and that’s if he takes it, because we are projecting on an 18-year-old here. Continuity will also be key, as roster turnover must be kept to an acceptable level so the team can gel over the years. -Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News

While Kennedy believes the Golden Knights have to be careful about roster turnover, I believe the exact opposite. Of the 30 players selected by the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, Kennedy has 12 still on the roster in 2020 (plus Tuch and Theodore), I expect that number to be closer to five or six.

Here’s my 2020 Golden Knights…

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Golden Knights Picks From Rounds 2-7

The Golden Knights had a total of 10 picks coming into the day. They traded one away for a prospect. Here’s a quick rundown of each player selected. See the three first round picks here.

Round 2 (#34) – Nic Hague – An incredibly tall defenseman from the OHL in Canada. He’s got one of the best shots of all prospects in the draft. His skating needs some work due to the fact that he grew a lot quickly. 6’6″ will put him among the tallest defensemen in the NHL. He says he models his game after Vitor Hedman and Colton Paryako.

Round 2 (#45) – TRADE – VGK trades #45 for Keegan Kolesar – The 69th pick in the 2015 draft from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s a tough winger who spends a lot of his team beating people up. This being said, the guy can score as well, having put up 56 goals in 118 games over the past two seasons in the WHL.

Round 2 (#62) – Jake Leschyshyn – The son of former NHLer with the Nordiques, Huuricanes, Senators, among others, Leschyshyn is a solid center. He tore his ACL in February, but he said in March that he expects to be back on the ice for training camp. Another WHL product continuing the trend of players Kelly McCrimmon knows very well.

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