Photo: Joel Auerbach via Getty Images Sport.Florida Panthers' top prospect Erik Gudbranson looks to be rejuvenated on the ice. To the surprise of many, Erik stepped onto the ice of the K-Rock Center with the familiar letter "A" on the left of his chest; a curveball by the much-maligned Kingston coaching staff coming just one day after Gudbranson, playing his first game without a leadership role this season, was called for twelve minutes in penalties and a game misconduct for defending his goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, who was run down by Oshawa Generals skater J.P. Labardo.
Gudbranson struggled early on in this OHL season, and while the year has begun to turn in a positive way since his return to Kingston after representing Canada in the Gold Medal round at the WJHC, it hasn't been what many observers expected: It's rather amazing witnessing a season's fortunes hinge on one singular, seminal play: Gudbranson, beaten to a puck leading to Labardo's breakaway opportunity-- but something changed when Labardo collided with the Kingston goalie; the sleeping giant awoke. The actual hit after the play was questionable, but the act itself must have been enough to create a glimmer of hope for all Gudbranson supporters including Kingston coach Doug Gilmour because it showed the type of positive passion scouts fell in love with last season; it showed he cared. In fact, the next time Gudbranson would take the ice, he had regained his leadership role and the respect of the coaching staff and teammates.
Many renounced the decision to punish the defender for his apathetic play citing organizational dysfunction, but players in this age group routinely need this type of wake-up call, and it looks like this was exactly the medicine Gudbranson - and his organization - needed. In today's game, versus the red-hot second-best OHL Saginaw Spirit (Panthers prospect John McFarland's team), Gudbranson was a man on a mission. He looked like the player the Florida scouting staff drafted 3rd overall in the 2010 entry draft. More often than not he was in position, and unfortunately for for the Spirit, his hits looked kinetically charged and painful. Granted his ice time was limited, as he continued his fight streak, but this was the behemoth we all expected at the beginning of the year. One can only hope that this inspired play continues and that the sleeping giant sleeps no more.
Erik in action during his first two games back following his club suspension, courtesy of MisterDB via YouTube: