Erik Gudbranson had a shaky start to his rookie season, at times making mistakes that would lead to opposing team scoring chances or even goals. Every young defenseman makes mistakes so it’s to be expected, and it’s definitely forgivable. Currently the Florida Panthers have 7 defenseman under contract for the 2012-2013 season, not including restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov who still needs to be re-signed. For one moment let’s say Kulikov isn’t re-signed and his rights are traded, the Panthers would then have 7 defenseman under contract with six being of the one-way variety. Gudbranson’s would be the only one who could easily be sent to the AHL due to his entry level deal, however I don’t see that happening. He was easily one of our top defenseman in the second half, aside from Brian Campbell, and gained so much confidence in the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils.
Erik is more of a stay at home defenseman and can be quite intimidating in the defensive zone, so it’s a given that his offensive numbers wouldn’t be through the roof, especially in his rookie season. Some may point out that his last season in juniors he had a good offensive year, which is true. But when you’re 6’4, 220 pounds playing against 16 year olds it isn’t exactly impossible to put the puck in the net. Not meaning to knock Erik’s offensive ability because there is some talent there, however I don’t see him putting up Campbell like numbers, not anytime soon at least. Some may not have noticed but Gudbranson does in fact have a hard shot from the point and with a little work could easily replace Jason Garrison with the cannon on the power play.
What about confidence? After training camp the year he was drafted he practically made the team and just needed to work out a deal, which didn’t happen. He returned to juniors for another year of conditioning and came back the following season mature and ready to go. Even through the shaky start he was ready for every game and giving it his all, including practices. I’d like to see a logical reason why he should be turned over to the AHL for a season after putting in his time. The common saying is defenseman generally take longer than forwards to develop and should come around after 200 games roughly. Gudbranson had 80 games invested with the playoffs included and is about another season away from really finding his groove, why would that be delayed? Keaton Ellerby has had more games played than Gudbranson in his career and yet looked more uncomfortable on the ice than he ever has before. He was awarded another one-way contract this off-season which has him set to, well to be honest, sit in the press box yet again.
Gudbranson needs to be in the lineup next season to gain confidence, skill and mature. Something that can’t be done as easily in the AHL because face it, there isn’t exactly a Steven Stamkos in the AHL to go head to head with to advance your game defensively. I feel Gudbranson needs to play against these types of players to become the guy we all hope him to be. On the flip side of things, as much as Gudbranson needs to be in the NHL next season, the Panthers need him there as well. Tyson Strachan I believe is very capable of filling in on the roster but without a full season on his resume he needs to be gradually worked into it. Keep in mind there’s also Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic waiting for their chances as well and if any call ups are needed it’ll be them.
Keeping in mind a lockout is also a possibility, I believe that is the only way Erik would be in the AHL next season. No matter how much you crunch numbers and look to statistics to rate our roster you have to realize, your eyes don’t lie. Unless you missed the second half of last season there’s no reason to believe Gudbranson had a bad season that would warrant a demotion so he could develop.