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Young Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Brannstrom
EDMONTON — Erik Brannstrom has been sent to Belleville to get his confidence back and his game on track.
As the Ottawa Senators boarded their Air Canada Jetz charter Thursday morning for the long trek to Philadelphia after a 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers to end a five-game losing streak on Wednesday night at Rogers Place, the 20-year-old Swedish blueliner and goaltender Marcus Hogberg headed in a different direction to the club’s AHL affiliate.
A healthy scratch for only the second time this season as the Senators faced the Oilers, the decision was made by general manager Pierre Dorion, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the staff that the time had come to send Brannstrom down because he wasn’t playing up to his capabilities in the NHL.
Instead, he was just trying to survive at this level and that’s not what they want.
Not only was Brannstrom struggling to contribute offensively — he is still looking for his first NHL goal — while getting lots of opportunities in those situations, his game had taken a turn for the worse defensively because he was taking gambles, trying to get points and that was evident in the club’s 5-2 loss to the Canucks on Tuesday in Vancouver.
The belief is defenceman Cody Goloubef, who has been out two weeks with an undisclosed injury, was on his way to join the Senators in Philadelphia. He was seen leaving MacDonald-Cartier Airport in the afternoon on Thursday and Smith indicated after the game in Edmonton that “he’s supposed to be feeling better.”
Brannstrom was minus-2 in the first period alone against the Canucks and twice turned over the puck on plays that led to Canucks goals. As a result, callup Max Lajoie suited up against the Oilers, but saw only limited playing time.
“This is the second time in a back-to-back we’ve taken him out,” Smith said of Brannstrom before the game in Edmonton. “I think sometimes it’s more mental than physical when you’re a young guy and there are a lot of games on a lot of nights. It’s sometimes better to take a step back and watch the game and then get back in there.”
Clearly, though, the Senators felt Brannstrom just wasn’t progressing the way they wanted. They want to give the kids a chance to play this season, but Dorion and Smith have insisted they won’t keep anybody here if it’s detrimental to their development long-term.
The young defenceman, who was the centrepiece of the Mark Stone trade to Vegas at last February’s NHL trade deadline, may not be happy with the decision to send him to Belleville, but it’s best for his development.
So, what does Brannstrom have to do to get some confidence?
“He had some offensive chances (against Vancouver),” Smith said. “(Tuesday) was a tough night when a couple of pucks got picked off, there’s a couple of bad breaks and they end up in your net. That’s part of the NHL but it’s also part of development and we knew that coming in with a lot of our guys.”
Yes, the Senators could have let Brannstrom keep trying to play through his mistakes, but they opted to go this route instead because it’s the right thing to do. Remember, Erik Karlsson spent time with the club’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton before becoming a full-time NHLer.
Coach Troy Mann will give Brannstrom the chance to play in every situation with Belleville, which is in a battle for a playoff spot. This decision is being made now but, let’s be honest, he’s not going to be there the rest of this season because he’s shown he can play at the level and just needs to work on some aspects of his game to get back.
There will be a time down the road when Brannstrom will be Thomas Chabot’s defensive partner while North Dakota’s Jacob Bernard-Docker and 2019’s No. 1 pick, Lassi Thomson from Finland, anchor the second pairing. Brannstrom’s demotion is a blip on his radar screen and now he has to work his way back up here.
He can do that by having the right attitude in Belleville, working hard (an aspect of everybody’s game that Smith demands the most) and getting results.
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