As Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon overhauled his roster last summer, defenceman Erik Gudbranson quietly went about his business, preparing for what he hoped would be his rookie season in the NHL.
Nearly a year later, the 20-year-old Gudbranson has settled in nicely on the Panthers blue line, paired mostly with veteran Ed Jovanovski.
Gudbranson, one can assume, will not only be a Panther long after most the of the free agents Tallon signed are long gone, but also a player the club builds around.
An Ottawa native who played for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs for three seasons, Gudbranson doesn’t look out of place in the thick of the first-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils.
“When we made the playoffs, the older guys said to enjoy it, because it’s the hardest thing to do,” Gudbranson, the Panthers’ 2010 first-round pick, third overall, said. “Can’t take it for granted at all. I look back at the regular season and remember how hard we battled. Now, it’s 10 times tougher being in this position.”
The 6-foot-4, 206-pound Gudbranson averaged 15 minutes 37 seconds of ice through the first five games of the series.
“I felt like I was on mission to establish myself right from the start,” Gudbranson said. “I’m still learning quite a bit, but I feel really comfortable out there.”