Should the Florida Panthers send Erik Gudbranson to the minors or keep him in NHL?


Thumbnail image for erikgudbransonbloodied.jpgWhen it comes to high-profile draft picks such as Taylor Hall, deciding whether or not to send him to the minors is more complex than choosing between development and preserving entry-level contract years vs. immediate team needs. When it comes to someone like the Florida Panthers’ No. 3 pick Erik Gudbranson, it might be a little simpler, but it’s still a tough call.

The big 18-year-old defenseman’s training camp and preseason is drawing rave reviews from the occasionally salty coach of the Florida Panthers, Peter DeBoer. Yet if you ask me, the Panthers are a couple years away from being an interesting contender in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division (more on that later, actually) and should let Gudbranson mature against players his age a little longer. The Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Filakov thinks that the team might keep him at the NHL level thanks to his impressive play this summer, though.

Gudbranson has played in every exhibition game and will play this weekend. He has displayed toughness and solid defense with crisp passing as well as scoring on his first shot in a Panthers’ uniform.

There seems to be two jobs among four young defenseman – Gudbranson, Keaton Ellerby, Nathan Paetsch and Joe Callahan. Even with Ellerby ailing (shoulder) I’m betting on him and Gudbranson.


The Panthers would have to sign Gudbranson by Wednesday before he’d be able to play the first nine games of the season like Kulikov did last year.

If the Panthers feel he’s ready then he stays. If not, they sent him back to juniors without losing a year towards free agency. Kulikov, who was also 18 last year, earned the right to stay and is now considered one of the most promising young defenseman in the league.

There’s no “experience” like playing at the highest level of competition and some young defensemen have adapted to the pro-level game with very little trouble. Drew Doughty, in particular, barely missed a beat as a rookie and sophomore. Still, Doughty has more of a “skill-based” game while Gudbranson is more of a “banger” (as Filakov points out in that article).

Most sub-Doughty defensemen (read: almost all of them) need time to get used to the increased speed and physicality of the pro game. Perhaps the Panthers would be wise to give Gudbranson the Jordan Staal test: the Penguins let the lanky center stay at the pro level beyond the nine game cut-off point and the team lost one of his entry-level years even though he was still quite raw. Staal rewarded them with a 29-goal season and helped them make the playoffs for the first time in the Sidney Crosby Era, though I’ll always wonder if Staal would have benefited from beating up on inferior competition for a year or two.

So, long story short, the Florida Panthers have an important decision to make regarding Gudbranson.

GM Dale Tallon is building something interesting in Sunrise, but I say take a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel approach to team building and send Gudbranson to the minors.

McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”

Bruins’ second line officially goes under the microscope


While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.

Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronLoui Eriksson
Matt BeleskeyDavid KrejciDavid Pastrnak
Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly
Chris KellyJoonas KemppainenZac Rinaldo

The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.

So, where is Krejci’s game now?

Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.

So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?

On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.

So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?

“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”