Vegas Golden Knights defense prospect Erik Brannstrom is enjoying a great deal of success in his first season in North America. However, he is taking a break from his American Hockey League duties with the Chicago Wolves to tend to some unfinished business at the World Junior Championships.
Extra Motivation Heading into Vancouver
To some, winning a silver medal at any competition is a major accomplishment and something to be proud of. To others, it serves as motivation to come back even better to win gold the following year. Brannstrom and Team Sweden fall under the latter category.
A loaded Swedish team went 6-0 on their way to the gold medal game versus Canada at last year’s tournament. With the game tied 1-1 in the third period, Canada scored the winning goal with 1:40 left in regulation and added an insurance goal 26 seconds later.
“We were so close last year,” Brannstrom reminisced. “They scored the winning goal with just one minute left. I think we played a really good game and could have won. So, of course, we want revenge and you want the gold.”
Brannstrom had a goal and three assists to go with his plus-five rating during his seven tournament games. Some may feel leaving your AHL team to go play at World Juniors represents a big challenge, but the young blueliner couldn’t be happier about the move.
“Of course, you want to play there,” he said smiling. “It’s a really big tournament. Friends, family and all of Sweden is watching, so it’s a privilege to be there. Just got to go for the gold now.”
Erik Brannstrom's Wolves debut last night included the 1st goal of the season as well as the OT GWG. The 19 year-old defenseman from Sweden is looking to make a quick transition to the North American style of play #Wolvesbites pic.twitter.com/D6k6SyHkPJ
— Jason Shaver (@theshaves) October 6, 2018
Brannstrom Ready for a Leadership Role
Team Sweden was stacked last year with seven first round picks on the roster, including Brannstrom who was selected 15th overall by the Golden Knights in 2017. He will be just one of five players returning from the 2018 team. He joins Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Timothy Liljegren as they only defensemen who won silver last year. However, Liljegren recently suffered a high-ankle sprain and his tournament is in jeopardy.
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“We had a really good team last year and I was one of the younger guys,” said Brannstrom. “We will have more younger guys now so I want to be a leader out there on the ice and off the ice. I am going to be myself and play my game. Hopefully, it’s going to be great.”
As an 18-year-old, Brannstrom was an alternate captain during last year’s tournament. He is the only returning player who wore a letter in 2018, so that “A” has a good chance at becoming a “C” this time around.
No Worries WJC Will Hinder Progression
Brannstrom has been a great addition to the Wolves roster this season. He has adapted well to the North American game and smaller rinks. He has four goals and 20 points in 24 AHL games this season and has Vegas fans excited to see him at the NHL level in the future.
Neither Brannstrom nor Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson is worried that three weeks away from the team will hinder Branntsrom’s overall progression and development. In fact, they both think it will only help make him a better player.
“It’s part of my development,” Brannstrom said. “I want to play here (Chicago) also and be the difference out on the ice here. It’s a really big tournament and you want to play in the World Juniors. It will be fun to be away for three weeks here and then come back to my normal routine.”
While Thompson cannot be thrilled to lose one of his top defensemen for nearly a month, he is excited for the youngster. “It’s really good for him and great for his development,” he said earlier this week. “You’ve got to remember he’s only 19 years old and he’s away from home. It’s his first time in North America and now he gets to go be around his countrymen and see his family for a month.
“The experience you get, you’ll never get that the rest of your life. He was playing great for us when he left and I think, if anything, this will help his game because I think the mental side of the game is so important. I think he’ll come back so excited and rejuvenated.”
Thompson, a native of Calgary, wants Brannstrom to have success at World Juniors but not too much success. “We’re cheering for Sweden to be second place,” he joked. “Obviously, Canada’s first!”
Sweden will begin its tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 26 against rival Finland.