It’s often tough for defensive defensemen to make a name for themselves, but Erik Gudbranson managed to do just that, often despite the odds against him.
The towering 6-foot-4, 195-pound defenseman from Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League missed several games this season due to a knee injury and a case of mononucleosis. However, his shutdown ability and a sneaky amount of offensive upside are significant enough that he could still very well be the first defenseman taken on June 25.
“He’s an extremely good character kid that plays hard, and he’s a guy that I assume would go high,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He brings a lot to the table as a shut-down guy.”
In addition to using his size to effectively neutralize opposing forwards, Gudbranson likes to mix it up as well. That clearly sets him apart from draft contemporaries Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley, who may be more adept at moving the puck but will not necessarily intimidate players coming into their own end.
“He’s got a little bit of nasty in him and uses his physical tools to his advantage,” said Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald. “He’s not fun to play against, and you’re always looking for those guys. He’s like Tim Gleason
in that he makes you pay the price for going down his side of the ice.”
There’s no doubt about that side of Gudbranson’s game, but there are differing opinions as to what he brings to the table as a two-way defenseman. He did not have the supporting casts that Fowler and Gormley enjoyed with their respective clubs, but still managed to score two goals and 21 assists in 41 games, indicating that the potential is there.
“He shows more offensive upside than people give him credit for,” said MacDonald. “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”
“It’s not like he beats the puck up,” added Karmanos. “He can handle it and make plays as well.”
With that high of a ceiling – an offensively-developed version of Gudbranson has drawn hypothetical comparisons to Chris Pronger - it’s easy to see why his challenges this year did not alter his draft standing even though they certainly affected his play in the short term.
“It’s a testament to his athleticism and his character,” said Karmanos of Gudbranson, who took home the OHL’s scholar athlete award this season. “People can see those qualities when he plays.”