"We want to make it tougher to play in Florida than it has been in the past. Teams have come to Florida on a little bit of a break and come out of there with two easy points. That's not going to happen any more and this is a start."
Erik Gudbranson was drafted 3rd overall in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, and considered by many to be a cornerstone of the rebuilding process. Erik, a 6'4'' 205 lb anchor on the blueline is currently in his third year with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. He has amassed 18 points (7G, 11A) in 29 games played and while he is on pace to exceed his previous career bests (he's already scored more goals this season than he has in his prior two) he has been suspended for 8 games and might not get a chance to reach those numbers. Even despite the suspension many observers felt that Gudbranson's game wasn't where it should be this season, and that there was something lacking. To gain a greater perspective of Gudbranson and his development this season, Litter Box Cats spoke with Scott Campbell of The Scouting Report.
LBC: How familiar are you with Erik Gudbranson and his game this season?
SC: I've seen him a couple times live during the first half of the year and also a couple of looks on television.
LBC: Statistically speaking, this seems to be a down year for Erik, what do you think is missing or hasn't quite developed in his game that was seen or even expected this season?
SC: I think people expected him to kind of take that next step in the development of his offensive game, and it hasn't quite come to fruition yet. He has a big shot and he's used it more this season, but it doesn't look like the creativity has been coming to him naturally and I don't think he's been quite as good on the PP as most were hoping for. I thought he'd be closer to [a point per game pace] this season, but while the numbers don't blow you away, I think his skating ability and shot do translate well to the NHL, so despite not dominating at this level, he could still be effective offensively with Florida.
LBC: As expected Erik represented Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship. What did you think of his performance in the tournament?
SC: Admittedly, I didn't catch as much of the tournament as I would have liked, but I thought he was solid but not spectacular. I think he made a few mistakes and was exposed a couple of times from being caught out of position as well. I also wanted to see him impose his will a little more by using his size and really taking over the game physically. All in all, it was an okay showing for him, but I thought he was certainly capable of more.
LBC: What about his acting chops? (See: Nike Boom commercial)
SC: Haha I actually had to just go and YouTube that one again. Well his voice commentary will never get him to Hollywood, but he had a nice smirk there at the end!
LBC: When Gudbranson suits up, the Frontenacs are a team that wins more games (18-9-1) than without him; how would you explain this?
SC: I wasn't aware of that stat, but he's definitely their best player so having him in the lineup is a huge addition. He's one of the top defenseman in the league right now, and he can log a lot of minutes against the other team's top line which makes a huge difference. This is especially important in a league like the OHL, where your top guys will often push 30 minutes a night if they're defenseman, sometimes even more,so having him on the ice instead of some of their more inexperienced guys adds some stability to the back-end.
LBC: Erik seems to be a very family-minded individual; what kind of impact has younger brother and teammate Alex Gudbranson had on Erik's game and development?
SC: He's a great kid, definitely the type of guy you want to have in your locker room, and the type of guy who's a great kid off the ice as well. I think having Alex there might strengthen his leadership a bit. Obviously this recent issue might point to the contrary, but I think he's probably doing a lot behind the scenes trying to prepare Alex for a successful OHL career and what it takes to play in the league.
LBC: Erik was taken with Florida's first lottery pick in a number of years and many fans believe such a pick should equate to a big impact player - Is Erik that kind of player at the NHL level?
SC: I like his game a lot and I've always been a big proponent of his, but I'm not sure he's going to live up to hype that most fans associate with the third overall billing. I think it's difficult for defensive defenseman or two way defenseman to prove their worth to the fans when you could have guys like Hall, Seguin, Skinner etc. putting up 80 point seasons. With that being said, if Gudbranson develops into a guy that can pot 30-35 points a year, play on the top pairing and wear the 'C', I think that certainly warrants the third overall pick, especially in the mind of the general manager and coaching staff that loves to have guys like that in the lineup.
LBC: Rarely do we see impact players dropping the gloves; those that do are a rare breed to say the least. Is there any cause for concern regarding Erik's willingness to fight? Do you think that part of his game will need to be adjusted at the NHL level especially if he is a potential big impact player?
SC: I think for him to be successful, he needs to bring that grit to the game every night and dropping the gloves is part of that. I think as a coach you obviously want to make sure he's doing it in certain situations and you're likely trying to ensure that he isn't just arbitrarily fighting with anyone in any given game, but I don't have a problem with him doing it, and I think his teammates will have a lot of respect for him because he's willing to stand up for guys.
LBC: I just watched the 5-4 Kingston loss to Oshawa (Jan 22nd) where Erik picked up 12 minutes of penalties (including a fighting major) in one play including a game misconduct. He seems to be racking up a lot of PIMS this season (almost doubling his pace from a year ago); what do you think the cause for this is? Increased physicality? Frustration? Out-of-position play?
SC: It could be a combination of all three. The situation in Kingston is a little contentious to say the least, and I think Florida may have been wise to just keep him up in the NHL this year, but that's another story. He's always been a guy with a nasty edge to his game and no shortage of grit, so he's going to find his way to the box in that regard. I had a chance to see the YouTube of that particular hit, and there's no question that it was a very poor decision by him. I would say that personal frustration is also impacting that ascent of his PIM totals.
LBC: Dale Tallon has been quoted as saying "Erik has impeccable character" and during interviews that particular trait is clearly visible. How would you explain the recent character issues that have come to light? Is there anything to worry about for Panthers fans?
SC: I wouldn't be too concerned. There's some back room issues in Kingston which are playing a role in this, so I can't really fault him. All of the guys I was with in Sudbury last season have a ton of respect for him both on and off the ice, and from everyone I've talked to, they have equally high reviews of the type of kid he is.
LBC: Should we expect Erik making another strong push for a roster spot on the Panthers next season, or do you think more development should be prescribed?
SC: I think he needs to move on to the next level in 2011/12. I would have definitely liked to see more of a dominant offensive year this season, but as I said before, I think his offensive tools might not shine at the OHL level, but could still be effective at the next level. I think he'll need to be eased into the lineup, but if everything turns out well, he should be able to play some quality minutes by Christmas.