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

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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.

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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 makes Keith, Blackhawks look helpless with absurd assist (Video)

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Connor McDavid‘s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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First pick, first goal: Nico Hischier also flirting with first hat trick

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One remarkable thing about the New Jersey Devils’ hot start is that Nico Hischier, the top pick of this past draft, had yet to score his first NHL goal.

Of course, there’s a danger to looking at only goals. After all, the 18-year-old had four assists in six games, with three coming in his last two contests. The Devils were justified in all of those comments about it being just a matter of time …

… As it turns out, it didn’t take Hischier much time against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Not only did the Swiss scorer find the net for his first goal by roofing a nice setup from Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford.

He also showed some savvy in scoring his second goal less than two minutes later.

Hischier now has two periods and change to collect his first-ever hat trick in that same game.

A quick look at how he’s been doing, overall

Even when other Devils stole some of his thunder in what might have been an opening statement of a first win for New Jersey, Hischier showed some dynamic moves.

Nice.

As NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reported, Devils coach John Hynes was left raving about Hischier after he collected two assists in the Devils’ shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

“He was very good in all aspects,” John Hynes said on Wednesday. “Defensively he was excellent, going back to the video this morning, some of the chances he had that he didn’t score on were excellent. When you look at the chances he created, the assists he had, the assist on the game-tying goal, he set up (Taylor Hall) very well in the offensive zone. I’d say that was his most complete game to date.”

Hischier began the season being used sparingly, but he logged more legitimate top-six minutes the past couple games. He sure seems like a quick study so far. Hischier’s getting some protected zone starts and other situations, but there’s also sense that Hynes is going to take off the training wheels very quickly.

Thursday seems like the reward, or the flashing light, for all that good early work. This post will be updated as we wait to see if Hischier can manage that hat trick.

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Look, it’s very, very early.

All we can judge Hischier and the Devils on, right now, is how they’ve played so far … and with each game, this team looks more and more legit. And so does their prized prospect.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruised Bruins get Bergeron and Backes back, at least

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On paper, a game against old chums the Vancouver Canucks would probably be an assumed W for the Boston Bruins.

It hasn’t been safe to assume much during an up-and-down start so far, and that goes straight down to injuries, as Bruins news seems to rotate with the bad and the good.

In the case of Thursday, the good and the bad seem to come in hour rotations rather than days. Earlier, the unfortunate news came: Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a concussion, adding to the rough news about Ryan Spooner.

If Anton Khudobin struggles and the Bruins need to outscore their problems, at least they’re getting reinforcements in that regard, as both David Backes and Patrice Bergeron are back in action.

One would expect Bergeron to resume much of his puck-mastery tonight, or at least soon, even if he might take a while to improve after a 2016-17 season he wasn’t totally pleased with.

(Bergeron was probably in the minority there, what with winning the Selke Trophy and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating opponents.)

Backes might be most interesting to watch. He reportedly lost 10 lbs. because of diverticulitis, so you wonder if he’ll be limited for a while. He’s trying to bounce back from 2016-17 in a more objective way than Bergeron, after all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.