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.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.

Penguins, Dumoulin seem pretty far apart with their arbitration numbers

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have two arbitration hearings scheduled with restricted free agents (Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary) over the next few weeks, and on Saturday we found out some of the numbers being thrown around for one of them.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has the arbitration numbers for Dumoulin, with the defender asking for $4.35 million, while the team is offering $1.95 million.

Obviously, that is a pretty significant gap, and probably one of the larger ones you will see in these sorts of situations. But it is also important to keep in mind that at the end of the day this is still a negotiation and both sides know they’re probably not going to get what they are hoping for.

Dumoulin has to know he is not going to get $4.35 million, while the Penguins have to know they are probably going to have to pay more than $1.95 million to get him re-signed.

He is coming off of a contract that paid him $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

The question is going to be how much each side has to give up.

What is going to work against Dumoulin is that he does not have the offensive numbers that are going to stand out and get him the sort of payday he asked for. His career high in points is 16 while he has scored just two goals in 163 regular season games during his career. He is a good defensive player and a solid top-four defenseman on a Stanley Cup winning team, but that lack of offensive production is going to hurt him in this sort of negotiation. Even if he were an unrestricted free agent on the open market he probably would not be able to get that sort of payday from a team. It seems impossible to think he would get that as an RFA in arbitration.

His arbitration hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 24.

Sheary is scheduled for his arbitration hearing on Aug. 4.

The Penguins are still $10.3 million under the salary cap (via CapFriendly). Dumoulin and Sheary figure to take up most of that, but they are also still in the market for a third-line center to replace Nick Bonino after he signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency.

Coyotes, Martinook avoid arbitration with two-year contract

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The Arizona Coyotes and restricted free agent forward Jordan Martinook were able to avoid their upcoming salary arbitration hearing by agreeing to terms on a two-year contract on Saturday.

Martinook’s new deal will pay him an average annual salary of $1.8 million per season according to Craig Morgan of 98.7 in Arizona and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“We are pleased to sign Jordan to a two-year contract,” general manager John Chayka said in a statement released by the team. “Jordan is a hard-working, versatile forward with good speed. He was an effective player for us last year and will play an important role for us this season.”
Martinook had an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 26 but this contract helps the two sides avoid that unpleasantness.

A second-round pick by the Coyotes in 2012, the 24-year-old forward has spent the past two full seasons playing for the Coyotes and is coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw him score a career-high 11 goals and 25 points. He mad $612,500 this past season, so the $1.8 million cap hit over the next two years represents a pretty significant raise for him. He bounced around the Coyotes’ lineup this past season, but he spent the majority of his time playing on a line alongside Tobias Rieder.