There were high expectations placed upon Erik Gudbranson when the Canucks acquired him one year ago.
As a top three pick in 2010, one can say that what the Canucks gave up — Jared McCann, a second-round pick, and a fourth-rounder — certainly matches an expected return for a player with Gudbranson’s pedigree. Cynics were quick to jump on what appeared to be a lopsided deal made by Jim Benning in the Florida Panthers favour.
Gudbranson has a career-high 13 points and just 12 goals in 339 games. It was well-established that offence simply isn’t a priority in his game, thus placing all the pressure on his physicality and defensive play.
Give Benning credit; he tried to address the defensive problems of the team while trying to get younger. The decision to let Dan Hamhuis walk was the most significant subtraction on the blue-line last season, and the team needed a replacement. With that said, Benning paid a high price in giving up a promising 19-year-old. Gudbranson isn’t a top two defenseman, and you can certainly argue that the top four wasn’t his calling either.
Although Gudbranson played just 30 games this season, it was plenty of time for fans to reassert the notion that the Canucks lost the trade. This season wasn’t kind to the 25-year-old defenseman. Although they started off solid, his partnership with Ben Hutton didn’t live up to the hype. Originally thought to be a robust blend of physicality and puck-moving, the struggles were evident, and they were evident quickly.
Opposing teams exploited the wide gaps between the two, and they also struggled to transition the puck up ice. Benning described Gudbranson as a “physical defenseman who’s hard to play against,” and yet his physicality was never eye-catching. The defensive slide that he performed to break up plays was hit or miss. He would put himself in dangerous positions as he tried to do too much with the puck. Gudbranson did himself no favours with regards to getting on the good side of Canucks fans. Purely based on this season, one would be justified in saying he isn’t a top-four defenseman.
Gudbranson: “I personally struggled a little with the new systems and adapting to it and finding a way within that system to play physical. I want to be tough to play against. I want guys to know they’re going to get hit if they come to my side.” (Source)
For a player who went through significantly more lows than highs, there are still valid reasons to believe Gudbranson will have a bounce-back year come September.
1. A healed wrist injury
His season-ending wrist injury is expected to be fully recovered by training camp. Although it shouldn’t have impacted his decision-making, it would be hard to refute the idea that it didn’t hamper his overall play. His wrist mobility wasn’t up to par; therefore his puck-handling and shooting abilities were certainly affected. He had surgery in late-December, and nine months of rehabilitation should be more than enough time to recover.
2. He’s adjusted
The transition from a market like Florida to a passionate one in Vancouver can be easily overlooked. The spotlight is on him, and fans are holding him accountable for his mistakes. He’s had a year to gain familiarity with his teammates, the organization, and the city. He struggled with Willie Desjardins’ systems, but he now gets a fresh start with Travis Green.
3. He’s motivated
There’s something about Gudbranson that spews confidence and maturity. When he speaks, one can immediately sense that he means business. He’s a smart individual, both academically and emotionally. He knows he had a poor first season in Vancouver and he has a chip on his shoulder. He came into Vancouver as a third-overall pick and with high expectations, which he completely missed. Based on the numerous interviews he’s had, he appears hungry to show fans that he isn’t the player we all saw this year.
“I know for a fact that I have something to prove. I want to be here more than anything. Above that, I want to prove to the city and the team that I can be a good influence on this group.” (Source)
Benning said that he intends to re-sign Gudbranson to a one-year contract. This decision is wisely based on the fact that he’s a restricted free-agent who’s already making $3.5 million. He certainly didn’t play well enough to earn a long-term contract, let alone in the $5-6 million range. Gudbranson has no leverage in the negotiations because of how poorly he played this year. The Canucks expected one thing and got the other. The one-year contract will allow them to determine where he stands on the spectrum once he becomes an unrestricted free-agent.
Benning:“I think we’ll figure something out on a one-year deal so we can get a better book on him. And after we sign that one-year deal, we can see where he’s at after Jan. 1, and then we can re-sign him to a long-term contract.” (Source)
Gudbranson has been quite the punching bag this season. Having failed to live up to extremely high expectations, an even brighter spotlight will be placed on him in September. Canucks fans have every right to be critical because he did have a bad season. Nonetheless, like any other player who goes through adversity, it will be up to Gudbranson to turn those fans into optimists.