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By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
In what turned out to be of little surprise, the Panthers made 6'4 rearguard Erik Gudbranson the third overall pick in the NHL draft Friday night in Los Angeles.
Gudbranson, who along with fellow defenseman Cam Fowler, were the two players most draftniks said the Panthers would take after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin went one-two to Edmonton and Boston respectively.
Looking for that big, Dion Phaneuf/Chris Pronger type player to go along with offensively gifted Dmitry Kulikov (drafted in first round last year), Panthers GM Dale Tallon decided to go with the 18-year old Kingston Frontenac (OHL).
Tallon, who was looking for a player with lots of character, size, speed and skill, found that in Gudbranson.
"I've never been squeezed so hard by my dad to be honest with you," said Gudbranson after the selection. "And my mom was just ecstatic. My dad broke down in tears. It was a great feeling and it's something I'm never going to forget."
The Ottawa, Ontario native posted 23 points (two goals) while posting 68 penalty minutes in just 41 games for Kingston as he missed time due to a sprained knee ligament and a bout with mononucleosis.
“Gudbranson to me is a guaranteed long-term NHLer," said NHL Central Scouting Director EJ McGuire. "In my opinion, Gudbranson is another Chris Pronger-type, what he brings that (Pronger) really didn't do much of, though, is he'll fight. He is some kind of tough. Chris Pronger is mean and will hit you; Gudbranson will hit you and fight you. Pronger is three inches taller than Gudbranson, so maybe Dion Phaneuf would be an even better comparison"
Right from the get go, the Panthers and Gudbranson seemed like a perfect fit. At the NHL Combine in Toronto earlier this month, the Panthers made the blueliner feel the most comfortable.
"I just met with them at the combine," said Gudbranson Thursday at the top prospect luncheon. "My interview with them was probably the easiest. They're a great bunch of guys. Dale Tallon really made it extremely easy for me, I was a little nervous going into the combine and he made it all the more fun."
Gudbranson did meet with the Panthers after the luncheon for one last meet-and-greet, thus cementing himself as the Panthers choice.
For Gudbranson, it can only be a dream come true as the defenseman thought that Florida could have been a very realistic choice to go, dating back to the Combine.
"I did my research on their team," said Gudbranson. "I felt that with Dmitry Kulikov there, I think I could be a good compliment to him on the backend."
What Gudbranson really liked about being selected by the Panthers was their new GM.
"You see what he did with the Chicago Blackhawks and winning a Stanley Cup and building that team from scratch" said Gudbranson. "I'm really excited to be a Florida Panther now and I feel that this is a team that's going in the right direction. There's no doubt in my mind that I want to be there."
With the Panthers only having newly acquired Denis Wideman on the blueline with a right-handed shot, adding Gudbranson's cannon right handed slap shot gives head coach Peter DeBoer better options on the backend.
But for Gudbranson, he knows that there's a lot of work left to accomplish if he wants to make the 2010-11 team. It just doesn't end with the draft.
"I'm going to go there and compete with the guys that are there and try to earn a spot as much as possible," said Gudbranson. "I'm going to go there and compete and if I have to beat out anybody I will."