2010 first round pick Erik Gudbranson's chances to make the Panthers look slim


erikgudbranson.jpgA lot of the hype around Florida Panthers first round pick Erik Gudbranson was that he was a big player and the kind of guy that could step into the NHL right away in his first season. With being drafted by the Panthers, playing right away seemed like a definite possibility for the young defenseman with the sky-high potential.

Like all big ideas, however, sometimes it’s better to not get any in the first place. After the Panthers signed defenseman Mike Weaver yesterday, this pushed the Panthers total of NHL-experienced blue liners (with one-way contracts) to eight. The Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Steve Gorten mused that this might not work out so well for Gudbranson’s chances of making it to the NHL right away.

That seems to signal the Panthers plan on returning Gudbranson to juniors either before the end of training camp or before he plays his 10th regular season game, which would start the clock on Gudbranson’s entry-level deal yet to be signed.

Here’s what [Panthers assistant GM Mike] Santos had to say about that:

“I wouldn’t say Gudbranson can’t make the team, but he has to make the team. We’re not going to give anything to  him. If he comes in and he’s better than any of those guys in front of him, then he’ll be on the team.  But there’s nothing wrong with an 18-year-old continuing to develop in juniors. It’s nice to have this depth, so you don’t put that pressure on an 18-year-old where he has to come in and step in.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong about having a guy develop in the minors and if you’ve got the ability to allow him to do that, that’s the route a team likely should take. There’s no need to rush a guy to the pros if you don’t have to and with what the Panthers are rolling with right now with the eight defensemen they’ve got squared away on one-way deals (Bryan McCabe, Mike Weaver, Clay Wilson, Dennis Wideman, Dmitry Kulikov, Bryan Allen, Jason Garrison, and Nathan Paetsch) they’ve got plenty of depth to be had there.

Training camp will find out if Gudbranson is a better player than some of these guys that can help the Panthers win more games as well. Of those eight, the players destined to start for the Panthers are McCabe, Wideman, Kulikov, and Allen. The last two spots on the starting blue line are up for grabs. Whether or not Gudbranson can shine enough in camp to make the Panthers decision that much more difficult remains to be seen, but if anyone can you’d imagine that a top three draft pick can do it.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.