Erik Brännström cherishes the opportunity to compete with NHL stars
One by one, the established NHL players have taken over the Swedish World Championship squad. Stars like Oliver Ekman Larsson, John Klingberg and Mika Zibanejad will participate in this weekend’s tune-up tournament Sweden Hockey Games in Södertälje and Stockholm, where the Swedes play the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland.
But with one week to go before the this year’s World Championships starts in Copenhagen and Herning in Denmark, there are still some fresh faces on the roster. Notably five players that grabbed a silver medal in this year’s World Junior Championships in Buffalo. Goalie Filip Gustavsson, defenseman Erik Brännström and forwards Elias Pettersson, Lias Andersson and Axel Jonsson Fjällby are all competing for spots.
“There’s a lot of star power here”, Brännström said with a chuckle when asked about the sudden influx of NHL players on the team. “I’ve looked up to these guys, watched a lot of their highlights and now it’s really cool to be on the same defense as they are.”
Erik Brännström is only 18-years-old and admits he got a bit starstruck as he first introduced himself to the likes of Ekman Larsson and Klingberg.
“Kind of, yes. I mean, they play in the NHL… It’s been very educational for me to see how they act, what they do the ice and how they prepare themselves”, he said.
The Vegas Golden Knights prospect has enjoyed an eventful season in the SHL. It didn’t start that well, but after the World Juniors in Buffalo, where he was one of the best players on the Swedish roster, the puck moving d-man started to play with much more poise on his club team HV71.
“I don’t really know what went wrong early on, but I flew a lot between Sweden and the US last summer and felt that my training suffered from that”, Brännström said. “I think it caught up to me and I got punished for it. After the World Juniors, it got better and better and I started to produce more points. All that traveling last summer hurt my season a bit, but hopefully things will go smoother this summer and I can prepare myself better and be ready for camp.”
Photo: Uffe Bodin
WANTS TO PLAY IN THE NHL NEXT SEASON
Brännström has decided to leave Sweden this fall to pursue a career in North America. His goal is to play in the NHL as early as next season.
“It will be a challenge. I’m not very old yet, but I want to go there and give it a shot, obviously. NHL is where you want to be, it’s what I’ve been striving for all my life.”
He could have been playing for Vegas’ farm team Chicago Wolves in the Calder Cup right now, but the chance to get international ice-time with “Tre Kronor” convinced the NHL team he was better off staying in Sweden.
“I had long talks with (assistant general manager) Kelly McCrimmon when I was in Vegas”, Swedish head coach Rikard Grönborg told Elite Prospects. “They thought it was great for Erik to play with us instead of bringing him over right now. I think that’s a healthy way of looking at it. We want to help them get a better product and in exchange we will get them back to play for the national team every now and then. We know that the player’s end goal is to play overseas and we have to help them on their journey. I thought it was very wise of Vegas to let Erik play here. ”
Erik Brännström might be the youngest player on the Swedish roster, but he has earned his keep on the team.
“He has done an incredible job”, Grönborg noted. “He’s a very stubborn kid that hates to lose and has really intriguing skills to go with that. Those are qualities I love, obviously.”
It’s still a long-shot for the youngster to make the World Championship team – Anaheim Ducks’ defenseman Hampus Lindholm is set to join the Swedes in Denmark next week – but he has not by any means given up hope on a roster spot.
“It’s been going very well, actually”, Brännström said.” I’ve felt relaxed and been able to play my game the whole time. At the same, I’ve been playing with very skilled players, which makes it easier in a lot of ways.”
“It’s been a fun ride these past few weeks. When you have come this far, you really want to get the chance to play in the World Championships as well.”
THE SWEDISH ROSTER FOR SWEDEN HOCKEY GAMES
3. John Klingberg, Dallas
5. Mikael Wikstrand, Fäjestad (SHL)
6. Adam Larsson, Edmonton
21. Lawrence Pilut, HV71 (SHL)
23. Oliver Ekman Larsson, Arizona
26. Erik Brännström, HV71 (SHL)
28. Adam Almqvist, Bern (NLA)
56. Erik Gustafsson, Chicago
9. Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles
11. Mikael Backlund, Calgary
12. Johan Larsson, Buffalo
13. Mattias Janmark, Dallas
15. Jacob Nilsson, Mora (SHL)
18. Dennis Everberg, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
19. Patrik Zackrisson, Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
24. Lias Andersson, N Y Rangers
25. Jacob de la Rose, Montréal
37. John Norman, Jokerit (KHL)
40. Elias Pettersson, Växjö (SHL)
41. Axel Jonsson Fjällby, Djurgården (SHL)
48. Carl Klingberg, Zug (SUI)
91. Magnus Pääjärvi, Ottawa
93. Mika Zibanejad, N Y Rangers