Gudbranson has been ‘outstanding’ for Panthers, says Gallant

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With 253 games of NHL experience, it’s easy to forget that Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson is still only 23 years old.

The third overall pick of the 2010 draft — right after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, and right before Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter — Gudbranson has taken a while to find his footing in the NHL.

Par for the course for a defenseman.

But Florida coach Gerard Gallant — who’s paired Gudbranson with veteran Willie Mitchell in a shutdown role — definitely likes what he’s been seeing this season.

“I think Gudbranson has been outstanding this year, really has played well,” Gallant told the Miami Herald. “I think he has been great, is happy with his role playing against the best players. He’s a fifth-year player. You look at him as a veteran player who is playing very well.”

Gubranson is a pending restricted free agent. He signed a two-year, $5 million extension in the summer of 2014.

The Panthers will need him — along with Aaron Ekblad, Dmitry Kulikov, and Alex Petrovic — to keep getting even better, as both Mitchell, 38, and Brian Campbell, 36, are nearing the ends of their careers.

Related: Gudbranson could be captain of the Panthers one day