The next installment in our Season in Review series focuses on Erik Gudbranson, the third defenseman in our breakdown of the team's skaters throughout the 2014-2015 season.
Gudbranson is a huge, one-man, wrecking machine. He delivers bone crushing hits constantly, and it's pretty awesome to watch.
He's just pulverizing people in those GIFs, which is pretty great to see. His size and strength also results in his ability to defend his own blue line, clear the crease, and dominate the opposition along the boards.
I don't think his defensive abilities are in question.
Man, I love that hit.
Moving onto his offensive abilities, however, he's actually not lacking as much as he would appear to be.
Gudbranson does have some speed, and can utilize it to get past defenders (especially through the neutral zone) when given space to get going.
The problem is that he doesn't skate up the ice (with or without the puck) often enough, and often defaults to dumping the puck down the ice, which results in loss of possession.
Despite having tons of space to skate the puck up, Gudbranson simply shoots it down the ice. I get that he's trying to deflect the puck into the zone off of a teammate's stick, but it would be much better to maintain possession through the neutral zone. This type of play is... less than ideal.
In the offensive zone is probably where Gudbranson needs the most work. The monstrous defenseman gets caught standing still often, and as a result isn't open to make a pass or take a shot. Here, he makes some weird juke move, puts himself in the back corner of the offensive zone, and flicks the puck on goal.
This first one isn't too bad, as Gudbranson doesn't really have space, but the second one is pretty egregious.
When Gudbranson first receives the pass from Brandon Pirri, Alex Chiasson is at the top of the face-off circle. Instead of taking a one-timer, or moving his feet and creating offense, Gudbranson backs off, retreats to the corner, tries the weird juke move, and Chiasson has time to make it out to the point, which puts even more pressure on the defenseman. He fires the puck off of Chiasson's stick, canceling any scoring opportunity that could have come from this play.
Getting the puck on goal is good, but unless the Cats get lucky, and the puck hits something on the way to the net, it's really unlikely that this type play ends in a goal.
Overall, Gudbranson plays well in his defensive end, but poorly in the offensive end. The former 3rd overall pick still has the potential, but will need a lot of work on his offensive game if he wants to make the jump from a bottom pairing player to a sturdy top four option.
As a side note, it's been noted (on several occasions) that Erik Gudbranson is a great leader. For a team trying to build a winner through character, the locker room presence that Gudbranson brings is just as important as his on-ice skill.
At first glance, Gudbranson's underlying metrics are pretty dismal, but digging a little deeper helps to show the value that the 23-year-old brings to the table.
For starters, his expected USAT% calculated by dCorsi/dFenwick was 48.9%. That means that based on his usage, teammates, and competition, it was expected that Gudbranson would have poor possession metrics. His actual USAT% of 49.2% indicates that he did better than expected in what can be considered a shutdown role, which is good news for the Cats heading into next season.
Gudbranson's WOWY's are also interesting, as his defensive partners generally play better with him than they do without him, and he generally plays better with them then he does without them. Here are the WOWY numbers from his two most common defensive partners in 2014-2015.
|Player||SAT% w/Gudbranson||SAT% w/o Gudbranson||Gudbranson's SAT% w/o Teammate|
If he helps drive possession by helping his teammates be better, then so be it. It's an interesting way of influencing puck possession, but his teammate's relative statistics do look better when they play with Gudbranson. In fact, over the past three seasons, the former Kingston Frontenac has been a top-four NHL defenseman in this regard.
Not incredibly impressive, but not too shabby, either.
Circling back around to Gudbranson's lack of offensive creativity, the numbers back up the Eye Test, pretty strongly. Here's a map of an offensive zone broken down into scoring chance probability (from war-on-ice.com):
Essentially, the darker the green, the higher percentage the shot is. A general rule is that being close to the net, and in the middle of the ice, results in a higher shooting percentage. Gudbranson's tendency to hide in the corner of the offensive zone severely hurts his scoring chances.
Here's a map of all of his shots on goal from the 2014-2015 season, courtesy of Sporting Charts.
That back, right corner has a lot of blue dots (shots), and only one red dot (a goal that was scored from behind the blue line, somehow? NHL play-by-play files can be funky sometimes).
The 6'5" defenseman certainly shoots the puck enough (his individual shot attempt rate was 63rd among defenseman who played at least 500 minutes last season). If he can take more of those shots from a more dangerous area, he's going to be a better offensive player, and the team can only benefit from that.
Gudbranson is still a player with a lot of hockey talent, despite the fact that he's had a bit of a rough start to his NHL career. It's hard to say what his ceiling currently is, as there still is a lot of development that can take place in his game.
Most of that development needs to focus on getting him to do more with the puck in the offensive zone. The defenseman has decent skills, but lacks either the confidence or hockey IQ to put them to work. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Gudbranson is only 23-years-old, and should be able to change a couple of aspects in his game for the better.
Headed into next season, however, there's plenty of reason to suspect that the team's 2010 first round draftee will be a key part of an impressive D-Corps. Dmitry Kulikov, Willie Mitchell, and Gudbranson are all capable of playing a top four role, and to have one of those players on the bottom pairing is the kind of necessary depth that all playoff teams have.