The Senators have just one RFA left to sign (Alex Formenton) after announcing they’d locked up Erik Brännström today. The contract came as a bit of a surprise, in that it was only for a single year, and for $900k. Many were expecting the team to lock up the 23 year old for longer and somewhere in the $1-2M range. Instead, it looks like the team wanted Brännström to show what he can do, and Brännström had enough confidence in himself to bet on having an impressive season that deserves a raise — or earns him a trade to somewhere he doesn’t have to leapfrog Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson on the left side to be a left-handed defenceman with offensive upside.
We all know the story with Brännström at this point. He was highly-touted as a prospect when he came over from Vegas as the key piece of the Mark Stone trade. He has offensive flair, and many would argue that this season, when injuries gave him 53 NHL games, he looked more comfortable than Thomas Chabot anchoring the top powerplay. Chabot is no slouch, mind you, but Brännström has incredible vision. The knock on him will always be his size, that at 5’9”, he can’t be an effective NHL defenceman. It’s just too easy to outmuscle him, push him off the puck, force him to the outside and prevent him from clearing the front of the net. No matter how good he is with the puck, he struggles to take it from others, and has no size which he can use to protect hit. Many would point to his 30 PIMs in 53 games as an example that sometimes he’s forced to hook and hold to defend — and admittedly, I would’ve guessed he’d taken more penalties than that. His 14 assists were good enough for third among defencemen on the team (and second when normalized per game), but for a player whose strength is his offensive upside, many want more than that.
We’d all like to see him succeed in the NHL — probably no one more so than GM Pierre Dorion — but he hasn’t set the NHL on fire yet, and usually a player of his stature has to be an Erik Karlsson- or Alex DeBricant-type to stand out at less than six feet tall. A one-year, one-way deal gives him the chance to prove himself, to cement his place with the Sens, to earn himself a trade to a team with an easier path for him, or to show that his offensive numbers just can’t translate to a league with the skill and size of the NHL. It seems funny to say it’s a show-me contract at just 23 years of age, but likely this season is his last chance to show whether he figures into this team’s long-term vision or not.
Also, stay tuned to our Top 25 Under 25 series, where Brännström will be coming up, since we’ve just made it to the Top 10.