With the Stanley Cup awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s now time for the second part of the summer. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, a huge part of their focus will fall on the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft and their first round pick.
A brilliant campaign last year saw them accelerate their rebuild and make the postseason, where they bowed out to Washington in round one. Because of that success, the Leafs will be picking 17th overall this year.
It’s unfamiliar territory for the Leafs of the last few years. The previous three first rounds picks of the Leafs have turned into William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, who are collectively known as the big three.
This time around, it’s not so cut and dry. There’s a lot of talent and debate around which player the Leafs should select. It’s no secret that the Blue and White need solid defensemen. That’s why they should use their pick on Erik Brannstrom.
Who is Erik Brannstrom?
Brannstrom is an extremely skilled Swedish defenseman who played his draft year for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. Many people have concerns about the Swede, with the biggest question being about his height.
It’s true, he’s currently undersized for a defenseman and stands at 5’10 and 175 pounds. However, there are a couple of other factors to consider before making a snap judgment.
The first is Brannstrom’s offensive capabilities. He’s an amazing skater who uses big strides to fool and elude the opposition. He’s got a lethal shot and is able to effectively quarterback a powerplay using his vision, speed and skating.
Another interesting stat that Brannstrom was able to put up 1.21 points per game this year. That’s actually more than Erik Karlsson, who scored at a rate of 0.97 back in 2008. That doesn’t mean that Brannstrom is going to turn into the next Karlsson, but’s it certainly a storyline to keep in mind.
Brannstrom also has another factor working in his favour. He’s one of the youngest players available among the draft eligible prospects. He has an early September birthday, which means that he’s got lots of room and time to grow.
He’s simply not as far into his development as other prospects around him. If the Leafs select him, that can be seen as a strength. He’s already got elite skill for a player so young. Give him another couple of years to develop and in all likelihood by the time he’s ready to step into the NHL, he will be more mature and will probably have grown a couple more inches and added some weight to his frame.
Erik Brannstrom is a small defenseman (5"10) but is a steady producer (1.21 PPG in SuperElit league). Lots of room to develop. (2/3)
— Alan Downward (@AlanDownward) May 8, 2017
Brannstrom is already more talented offensively than many prospects in the draft. With the age factor working in favour, he could be a huge steal for the Leafs with their pick. You can’t teach skill but the rest of the game will come with experience.
Maple Leafs Connection
Earlier in May, the Maple Leafs made a couple of European signings. It’s no secret the Leafs needed some defensemen and that was a need they addressed by bringing in Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen, a pair of Swedes.
One interesting note is that Borgman and Brannstrom were actually teammates this year with HV71. The Rosen signing was rumoured for a few weeks before it actually happened, but Borgman came out of nowhere and took many people by surprise.
While the Leafs were scouting Borgman, you could make a pretty convincing argument that they were also keeping a close eye on Brannstrom at the same time.
Erik Brannstrom was a teammate of newly signed Andreas Borgman. Would love to see him go to TOR in the 1stRd in June. I'll keep saying it.
— David Ceccanese-tdot (@TDotSportsBlog) May 17, 2017
If the Leafs do select Brannstrom, it would only serve to help his development and adjustment to North America by having a former teammate already in the organization to show him the ropes and make the transition that much easier.
The era of the rough and tough defenseman is over. Today’s NHL is all about players who are able to skate and make that crucial breakout pass. The game is faster than it has even been before and the new breed of players like Brannstrom are ready to take over.
The Leafs should take Brannstrom because he has incredible skill, he’s not done growing and he has an incredibly high ceiling. With the draft a few weeks away, keep a close eye on all prospect news. Anything can happen, which it what makes it so exciting.