Erik Gudbranson Q&A: Panthers 2010 first-round pick learning to be a leader
The third overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, 22-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson is just starting to come into his own with the Florida Panthers.
Gudbranson, who signed to a two-year bridge contract on July 10, has already earned 22 points and 247 penalty minutes in 175 NHL games.
Now, in the midst of his fourth season with the Panthers, Gudbranson has elevated his game to become one of the team's most physical defensemen and even managed to break the ice and score the team's first goal of the season in Tampa Bay.
Before the team embarked on their current four-game road trip, FOXSportsFlorida.com's Jameson Olive sat down with Gudbranson to discuss the team's revamped defense and the unique experience of playing hockey in South Florida.
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: We're only a few games into the 2014-15 season, but the defense has already looked much improved from the unit that allowed the second-most goals per game in the league last year. In your opinion, what's changed?
ERIK GUDBRANSON: I think as a core we're much better this year. A bit more experienced than we were last year. I think our system has definitely helped us out a lot. The way it's been conveyed to us, it's simple. Everyone is on the same page trying to accomplish that one task. We've been playing much better.
FSF: On a more personal level, how do you feel you've developed as a player since being drafted in 2010?
GUDBRANSON: I'm still a young guy, there's still a lot to be learned. If you talk to anybody in this league, they'll say they are learning every single day. No one guy knows it all. I definitely feel more experienced, more at ease on the ice. I've used what I've learned the past couple years and definitely applied it to how I've been playing lately. I think there's still a long way to go for me to be at the top of my game. For me, it's all about being consistent, being physical and making a good first move. I'm feeling much more comfortable doing those things and hopefully I continue to get better.
FSF: Last season, the Panthers acquired one of your old World Junior teammates, Dylan Olsen. Sharing the blue line together this season, how has his arrival helped you on the ice?
GUDBRANSON: It's great. (Dylan) and I have played together before. We understand each other and communicate very well on the ice. I think we've been a good, solid third pairing for our team this year. Obviously, we need to continue to get better. There are certain mistakes that have happened between the two of us, but it happens. A good thing about playing with (Dylan) is that we handle the ebbs and flows of games very well as a pairing. We don't get too high, we don't get too low. If something doesn't go our way, we refocus each other.
FSF: Panthers general manager Dale Tallon often speaks of you as one of the future leaders of this team. What you can learn from the team's current crop of captains like Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell to make yourself a better leader?
GUDBRANSON: Just by watching them, watching how they come to the rink and how they interact with players and coaching staff. It's great just seeing how they play and handle themselves, and to have that exposure to that every day you come to the rink. There are a lot of guys in this room you can learn a lot from. I'm trying to pay attention to them for sure.
FSF: As a native of Orleans, Ontario, what's special about playing hockey in South Florida?
GUDBRANSON: I love this environment and I love playing here. The weather is nice, obviously, that's what we always talk about first, but I think this is a first class organization that can do a lot of good things very well in the future. Obviously, we've got to work cut out for ourselves. It's not going to happen overnight, but being a part of the puzzle of this rebuild is very special to me and hopefully a lot of the young guys here.
FSF: Since moving to the Sunshine State, have you picked up any new hobbies?
GUDBRANSON: I spend a lot of time at the beach, like everybody says. I try not to golf as much since that's a summertime thing and during hockey season that's kind of hypocritical -- I try to stay away from it. I try to enjoy the weather as much as possible.
FSF: Team captain Willie Mitchell is known as an avid fisherman. Do you think you'll hit the seas with him at some point?
GUDBRANSON: I have been fishing a lot lately, actually. I've been down to Marathon Key a couple times for tarpon but I still haven't brought it in yet. I definitely got into some big game fishing.