NHL prospects across the globe have started their 2020-21 season and are in the spotlight among fans and personnel across the League. Each Tuesday, NHL.com will examine one of the major professional leagues in Europe, detailing certain players to watch, as well as noting those from other European leagues who are playing well.
Erik Brannstrom has shown the level of improvement on and off the ice that the Ottawa Senators were hoping to this season.
The Senators loaned Brannstrom to Langnau in National League, Switzerland’s top professional league, on Oct. 5, and he has scored seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games. The 21-year-old defenseman has played on the top pair and had two assists in a 2-1 win against Bern on Nov. 14. It was the second game of a back-to-back after Langnau hadn’t played since Oct. 27 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Brannstrom (5-foot-9, 181 pounds), the No. 15 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, was acquired by Ottawa on Feb. 25, 2019, in a trade for forward Mark Stone. He said he spent his offseason working on areas of improvement.
“I wanted to be a little bit quicker in the starts, my first couple steps, and work on my strength and try to put on some more [pounds] and get stronger,” he said. “I think I developed hopefully these things. I feel really good on the ice and I feel really good in the games so I’m happy with my development this summer.”
The Senators are happy with what they’ve seen.
“He looks bigger, which is good because he’s worked really hard at it this summer,” Ottawa development coach Shean Donovan said. “He looks confident.”
The Senators know what Brannstrom is capable of offensively but believe a simpler approach will make him more effective.
“Like a lot of young guys, they want it so bad, they want to show you every play they’re going to make the difference,” Donovan said. “Then you learn to let the game come to you and take what it gives you. I think he’s done a way better job of that. You just watch, he’s trying to drag guys toward him and dish it off, he’s not just attacking. … He has so much skill and talent, just let the game come to you and take what it gives you and not force it down the game’s throat.”
Brannstrom started last season in Ottawa and had four assists in 31 NHL games but was sent to Belleville of the American Hockey League on Jan. 3 and scored 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 27 AHL games. He’s hoping to earn a full-time role in the NHL and has learned from the success of other defensemen, including John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars, Samuel Girard of the Colorado Avalanche and Torey Krug of the St. Louis Blues.
“When I see really good guys playing in the NHL, they play really simple and when they can do stuff, when they have time, they do it,” Brannstrom said. “I think if I do that, simplify my game and get stronger, I worked on it a lot this summer, so we’ll see when the [NHL] season starts here. I’m very excited for it.”
Four other NHL prospects currently playing well (outside Sweden, Finland and Russia):
Tyler Benson, F, GCK
The 22-year-old left wing, who was a second-round pick (No. 32) by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2016 NHL Draft, has scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in seven games in the Swiss League, Switzerland’s second division.
Josef Korenar, G, Trinec
The 22-year-old, who signed with the San Jose Sharks as a free agent July 13, 2017, is 2-0 with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in three games in the Czech Extraliga, the top professional league in the Czech Republic.
Filip Kral, D, Brno
Selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round (No. 149) of the 2018 NHL Draft, Kral has two assists and is averaging 19:03 of ice time in five games in the Czech Extraliga. The Maple Leafs assigned the 21-year-old to the top professional league in the Czech Republic after he started the season with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in seven games with Prerov in the Czech second division.
Philipp Kurashev, F, Lugano
Selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round (No. 120) of the 2018 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old center has seven assists in eight games for Lugano in National League.
Five other NHL prospects to keep an eye on:
Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers), D, Sodertalje: The 21-year-old is second among defenseman in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division, with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 18 games.
Mikhail Berdin (Winnipeg Jets), G, SKA St. Petersburg: The 22-year-old has won his past three starts and is 6-3-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 12 games in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Lukas Dostal (Anaheim Ducks), G, Ilves: The 20-year-old leads Liiga, the top league in Finland, with a .941 save percentage and ranks second in GAA (1.64) in 11 games (10-1-0).
Johannes Kinnvall (Calgary Flames), D, HV 71: The 23-year-old is tied for fourth among defensemen in the Swedish Hockey League with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in eight games.
Arttu Ruotsalainen (Buffalo Sabres), F, Ilves: The 23-year-old has scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) during a five-game point streak and leads Liiga with 13 goals and 19 points in 14 games.