Youth is served: Panthers sign 2010 first round pick Erik Gudbranson to three-year entry-level deal

While the Florida Panthers went spend-crazy this summer to catch up to the salary floor, GM Dale Tallon’s real work is in developing a farm system and a crew of young players that will help carry the team into the future. Tallon’s first guy to get in those efforts was last year’s first round pick defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

Tallon wanted to get Gudbranson signed last year and get him in the mix to potentially join the likes of Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, and Cam Fowler as first year NHL studs right out of junior hockey.Those contract negotiations didn’t go so well and Gudbranson went back to playing in the OHL for the Kingston Frontenacs. This summer brought about a different story as Gudbranson signed his three-year entry-level deal with Florida to officially throw his hat into the mix to make the Panthers opening night lineup.

Last year’s draft coupled with this year’s selections shows what Tallon is trying to do with the Panthers. Top prospects forwards Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden were also first round picks for Florida last year and when you throw them in the mix with 2011’s first round pick forward Jonathan Huberdeau and second round choice forward Rocco Grimaldi, all of a sudden the Panthers future looks good. Add those guys with future prospects like goalie Jacob Markstrom and you’ve got a future to be proud of and Gudbranson figures to be their cornerstone defenseman.

Can he crack the Panthers roster this year? It’d be impressive if he did. Gudbranson had his share of struggles in Kingston last year but had his best statistical season with career highs in scoring 12 goals and adding 22 assists as well as 105 penalty minutes. Gudbranson also sat out an eight game suspension for a play in which he left his feet to hit an unsuspecting player. That sort of thing isn’t usual in his game, but the Panthers will appreciate the added physicality from the 6’3″ 195 pound defenseman.

On a team that just added Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski to be their top pair on defense and already dipping into their youth with Dmitry Kulikov, Jason Garrison, and Keaton Ellerby mixed with veteran savvy like Mike Weaver Gudbranson could carve himself out a top six spot with relative ease. In Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen’s minds having Kulikov and Gudbranson evolve together as a pair would be ideal. Assistant coach Craig Ramsay will make sure they can do that as he works with the defensemen.

It’s not likely to be an overnight success story in Florida, but getting Gudbranson in will make a difference for them and while there’s going to be growing pains to go along with it, the Panthers just have to look to their rivals in Tampa who were able to make it work with youngster Victor Hedman. If the Panthers can see a similar breakout, Florida could be a playoff destination for a long time for both teams.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

2 Comments

Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

10 Comments

After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

Getty
Leave a comment

Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

Leave a comment

Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.