A 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.