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.
Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks
If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.
Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).
Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:
1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP
Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:
Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.
Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings
As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.
They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.
The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.
On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.
It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.
This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.
That’s impressive stuff.
This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:
The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.