Erik Brannstrom knows he’ll get his chance in the NHL. Until then, he’s eager to get better with the Wolves.
The 19-year-old defenseman has too high a ceiling and skill level offensively to be in the AHL for long. Taken 15th overall by Vegas in the 2017 draft, Brannstrom impressed during the Golden Knights’ training camp, but team brass felt he needed more improvement in the defensive end before hitting the NHL and assigned him to the Wolves on Sept. 27.
It’s a decision Brannstrom is taking in stride, though he thought he played “pretty good” in training camp with Vegas.
“I’m going to develop and be a better player,” Brannstrom said. “If they want me here, I’ll play here [with] no problem at all.”
Considering the Golden Knights’ depth — they’re carrying eight defensemen even before Nate Schmidt returns from his suspension for violating the terms of the league’s performance-enhancing substances program — the best thing for Brannstrom’s growth would be steady minutes in the AHL instead of fighting for time on one of the NHL’s best teams. And based on what Vegas said about Brannstrom when he was assigned, the expectations are still quite high.
“We love where his development is going. Just now is not the right time,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“He’ll get some real good seasoning down there in Chicago, and hopefully things will go real well for them.”
Defenseman Deryk Engelland also had high praise for Brannstrom.
“His offensive instincts are right up there with the best guys,” Engelland said, according to the report. “And defensively, he’s a lot better than what you would expect. I’m sure we’ll see him soon.”
Of course, Brannstrom hopes that’s true. But he also acknowledges that he does need to get better in his own zone, add some strength and improve his positioning.
He’s also playing in North America for the first time, forcing him to get used to the smaller and tighter ice surface than what he skated on in Sweden.
As for whether he sees himself getting back to Vegas this season, Brannstrom didn’t want to put a timetable on that move. For now, that’s not his focus.
“I’m just going to play my game here, and we’ll see after that,” he said. “I’m glad to be here and play with the Chicago Wolves.”
Brannstrom is expected to get his first chance to play with the Wolves on Friday when they open the season at the Colorado Eagles. The Wolves’ home opener is Oct. 13 against Grand Rapids.