The Florida Panthers have taken care of one of their key restricted free-agents by inking 22-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a two-year, $5 million deal. The Cats chose the Ontario native third overall in 2010.
Gudbranson has appeared in 169 regular season games during his three seasons with the Florida organization and has totaled 5 goals and 16 assists to go along with a -48 rating and 239 PIM. The 2013-14 campaign saw the physical blueliner establish new career-highs, albeit modest ones, with 3 goals, 6 assists, 114 PIM and a much-improved -7 rating.
"Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed," said Tallon. "He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community."
I think this is a shrewd move by the Panthers. While the new deal reflects that Gudbranson is a key part of the club's future, it shows he still has work to do to earn a longer term the next time around. There is no reason for him to become complacent under this contract. If he does not keep progressing, and fails to live up to his lofty draft status over the next two seasons, then both team and player can simply part ways, as a change of scenery would likely be needed at that point.
With Gudbranson back for two more seasons, and the drafting of Aaron Ekblad first overall, the Cats certainly have two big building blocks for a young, deep defense in place. Next up for the club's blue line will be re-signing fellow RFAs Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen.