The Florida Panthers have re-signed defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a two-year contract, the team announced Thursday.
”Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general Manager Dale Tallon said in a press release. ”He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”
Gudbranson, 22, skated in 65 games last season with the Panthers, earning three goals, six assists and 114 penalty minutes.
The Ottawa, Ontario, native, most recently played for Team Canada at the 2014 World Championship with teammate Jonathan Huberdeau. In eight games, he posted one goal, six penalty minutes and a plus-7 rating.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Gudbranson has compiled five goals, 16 assists and 239 penalty minutes in 169 games over three seasons with Florida.
”It worked out well for both sides.” Gudbranson said of his new contract. ”At the end of the day what it comes down to is that I have two years with this team now and I’m going to make the best out of it. Obviously, the idea is to win a Stanley Cup as soon as possible and to take the necessary steps to get to that. Now that I’m set it’s all about worrying about hockey now and getting back to going in the right direction.”
With the re-singing of Gudbranson, the Panthers continue to improve upon a defense that allowed an abysmal 3.20 goals per game last season. The additions of newcomers like Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad, the team’s No. 1 overall pick in last month’s draft, will add a mix of both raw talent and experience as Tallon refurbishes the team’s defensive core.
”I think it’s shaping up to be a real force,” Gudbranson said of the team’s revamped defense. ”I think a great part is that we’re all good skaters, we’re all going to be fast, we’re going to be able to move the puck well and we bring some size as well.”
Mitchell, a 12-year NHL veteran and two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Los Angeles Kings, will serve as a mentor to Gudbranson as he looks to take the next big step in his career.
”He’s helped many guys around the league that he’s played with become better defensive players,” Gudbranson said of Mitchell. ”He’s a huge addition to our team and certainly a huge addition to the way we’re going to play this year.”
Entering his fourth season with the team, the Panthers hope that Gudbranson will begin to live up to his lofty draft status as he approaches 200 games played in the NHL.
”It takes 300 games in the NHL as a defenseman before you’re a real good defenseman.” Tallon said of Gudbranson’s development. ”He’s getting to that threshold where he’s starting to get close to that number. It’s a tough position, it’s tough to learn.”
Settling on a two-year contract rather than a big deal, Tallon hopes that the lack of a guaranteed future will motivate Gudbranson to work even harder.
”It’s good to keep him motivated to get another big deal,” Tallon said. ”We pay for performance, not for potential.”
Though he is still seen as a work in progress on the ice, Gudbranson has been one of the team’s most valuable players off of it.
Since he arrived in South Florida, Gudbranson has worked ardently to become one of the Panthers’ most prominent public figures through various charitable endeavors. In recognition of his community outreach efforts, Gudbranson was named the team’s 2013-2014 Community Ambassador of the Year, as well as the club’s nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded yearly to the player in the NHL who best exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
With Gudbranson under contract, the Panthers’ attention now shifts to restricted free agents Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen. Hoping to get both defensemen signed in the near future, Tallon noted that the team was ”getting close” to re-signing Kulikov.