Erik Gudbranson isn’t necessarily a huge source of production for the Panthers. However, his strength comes from his ability to change the momentum of a game via his physical play, and his leadership on and off of the ice. Read on for a recap of Gudbranson’s 2014-15 season.
Drafted third overall in 2010, Gudbranson has been a perennial tough guy for the Panthers. At 6″4′, 195lb, he’s a tall guy with plenty of muscle, who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. In four seasons with Florida, Gudbranson has 297 PIM. Gudbranson scored his first goal of the season, which also happened to be the Panthers’ first, on opening night against the rival Tampa Bay Lightning, in a game which the Panthers went on to lose in OT. On February 10th in the Panthers’ 6-2 rout of the Ducks, Gudbranson had his first and only 2-point game of the season when he tallied 2 assists. He would end the season with 9 assists in total with 1 being a primary assist and the other 8 being secondary assists. The best of his 4 goals came on February 3rd when he received a great feed from Tomas Fleischmann and snapped a backhand shot past Jaroslav Halak of the Islanders. His best hit of the season was a check to Canadiens forward Michael Bournival which resulted in a penalty called on Gudbranson.
Gudbranson is not a huge goal scorer, but he has the skills and presence of mind to score some pretty goals when he gets the chance. However, he is most well known for his many fights. Whether to defend his teammates or himself, or facilitate a shift in momentum, Gudbranson was there to drop his gloves when need be. His height allows him to take physical control over his opponents, and then use his strength to render them helpless while he pounds them with his strong right.
On December 6, 2014, this is exactly what happened. After taking a run at Gudbranson, Marcus Foligno was forced to pay for his actions in a fight with the 6″4′ defenseman. Although this fight ended in a draw, it’s clear that Gudbranson, who had a total of 4 fighting majors this season, is strong, and a force to be reckoned with. He also fought Steve Downie on December 20th in Pittsburgh. Gudbranson controlled Downie for a good portion of the fight until both of them fell to the ground. Most of the Panthers’ opponents realize how tough Gudbranson is, and do not actively seek him out. However, his complete willingness to drop the gloves for his team is what makes him a good leader. Gudbranson has received his fair share of hits too, however. On February 8th against Nashville, Mike Fisher of the Predators speared Gudbranson in a spot where it’s not so easy to withstand pain. Brett Connolly of the Bruins checked him from behind in the second-to-last game of the season and forced Gudbranson to leave after only 4:56 of ice time. He also battled a flu bug which forced him to miss the Panthers March 5th game against Dallas.
Gudbranson’s combination of a physical style of play, and his ability to skate well, make good passes, and put the puck in the back of the net when he gets the opportunity, are huge advantages for the Florida Panthers. Having played 245 career games in the NHL, he’s nearing the magic 300 game mark for NHL defensemen, and he certainly made strides this season. The 2014-15 season was Gudbranson’s best with the Panthers, and hopefully, that upward trend continues. In the future, we should expect a lot of big hits, good fights, and maybe even some slick goals from the tough defenseman.