Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson to sign entry-level deal, get chance to stay in NHL

GYI0061888122-gudbranson-joelauerbach-getty.jpgFlorida Panthers 2010 first round pick Erik Gudbranson is getting his wish. At the very least, he’s getting his chance to prove to the Panthers that he can stick in the NHL. The Florida Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov gives us the scoop on the news that Gudbranson will sign an entry level contract with the team and get his shot to show the Panthers that the future is now for him.

…Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon confirmed before Saturday night’s final preseason game against the Lightning that he will present a contract offer to the 18-year-old defenseman’s agent Monday morning.

“I’m not even thinking about juniors right now,” Gudbranson said Friday.”I’m playing for the Florida Panthers. I’m not thinking about what could happen or should happen.

“Basically, what they want me to do is to come to play hockey.”

Well yes, they want you to come play hockey and play it better than some of the guys the Panthers initially had slated to start the season on the blue line. For Gudbranson, he’ll get a nine-game window to show Tallon and coach Pete DeBoer that he’s worthy of staying around in the NHL or else the team can send him back to junior hockey.

The Panthers have given Gudbranson a long look during training camp playing him in all of the team’s preseason games. While the Panthers are in the process of building a bigger, better team, they’re also a group that could benefit by having all their young guys learning together at the NHL level and winning games. For Gudbranson, his preseason has been regular season-like all along and he gets nine more games to prove that he belongs with the big boys. For an 18 year-old kid that might be asking a lot, but at the NHL Draft in Los Angeles, many experts felt that he was the defenseman most ready to make it to the NHL right away. It’ll be fun to see if he can make it through his audition and stay in the NHL.

(Photo: Joel Auerbach – Getty Images)

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    ‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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    At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

    The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

    BUT!

    The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

    “Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

    Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

    Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

    As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

    The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

    If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

    The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

    Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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    The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

    According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

    Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

    Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

    The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

    Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

    Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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    University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

    Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

    Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

    The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

    Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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    Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

    Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

    The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

    Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.