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Gudbranson looking forward to his first full season with Pittsburgh

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

For hockey players, training camp is back-to-work time.

But, since defenseman Erik Gudbranson joined the Penguins at last year's trade deadline, he's finding preseason with his third NHL team particularly useful.

"I'd been traded to Vancouver during the summer," said Gudbranson of the May 2016 deal that sent him to the Canucks from Florida. "I had time to prepare for [playing there], to talk to the coaching staff and whatnot. 

"But you kind of get thrown in the fire when it's at the trade deadline. You just step on the ice. Marcus [Pettersson] and I got some good chemistry going as partners. He's a really good hockey player and we just kind of rolled from there.

"This year is a little bit different, wrapping my mind around the way the Penguins play. It's a very fast, puck-possession team. Definitely a playmaking team."

Gudbranson, 27, did well after arriving in Pittsburgh via a swap that sent wing Tanner Pearson to Vancouver last Feb 25.

The 6-foot-5, 217-pounder played big, as he does, going plus-7 with two assists in 19 games with the Penguins. He then scored his only goal as a Penguin during the team's four-game playoff loss to the New York Islanders.

As Gudbranson noted, his "Twin Towers" partnership with the 6-3 Petterson was a success. Pairings are up for grabs at camp, but that one could merit revisiting. Gudbranson got some early work in with Jack Johnson.

"We're both big guys," Gudbranson said of his tandem with Pettersson. "What makes us work is that we can both skate pretty well. Petey, if you see him walking around the rink, he's pretty skinny. It's kind of wild that he's an NHL player.

"But he's incredibly talented. He loves making plays, loves holding onto the puck and loves being creative. Myself, I love creating those holes for him."

Gudbranson is best-known for his work on the defensive side of the puck. But that doesn't preclude him from enjoying the chance to create.

"It's an incredibly talented team," said the Ottawa native. "You may look at me as a defensive guy who doesn't really want to carry the puck up the ice. But I want to make plays. My plays just happen to be in my corner or the neutral zone, less than in the offensive zone."

Like his teammates, Gudbranson was disappointed with the Penguins' early playoff exit last season. But he sees no problem that isn't fixable.

"In the playoffs, the Islanders knew what we were going to do, and it showed in those four games," Gudbranson said. "They knew we were a skilled team that wanted to make plays, and they nullified that. In certain instances, we shot ourselves in the foot.

"It's about being a little bit sharper and a little bit more responsible when it comes to those plays. Sometimes you have to put a puck in deep so you can make those plays 60 feet away. That can be the difference."

NHL teams break out new jerseys on a yearly basis. If the Penguins ever adopt a sleeveless model, Gudbranson's quotient for menacing will skyrocket even further. His considerable arms are covered in tattoos.

"Maybe not," Gudbranson laughed when addressing ink's intimidation factor. "Everybody has 'em nowadays.

"The tattoos on both my arms took a while. The guy I worked with was very detailed and slow with his hands. I probably got 45 hours on both arms combined."

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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