The Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a youth movement. So, let’s take a look at the club’s top youngsters!
If the Vancouver Canucks want to make their ‘rebuild on the fly’ work, they need a strong foundation of young roster players. We all know the Bo Horvats and Ben Huttons of the team, but what’s after that? How are things for the AHL Utica Comets and what can we expect from the Canucks’ next crop of youngsters?
To answer those questions, our staff ranked all signed Vancouver Canucks players under the age of 25. After compiling a list of the top 10 Canucks prospects recently, this is all about who can help today. And guess what, the Canucks only have a total of 26 players under 25 signed and playing in North America right now.
Next up is one of the newest members of the Canucks: defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
#4 – Erik Gudbranson
Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
NHL Experience: 322 Games
How He Got Here
Erik Gudbranson is the second-oldest player on our top 25 under 25 list, being just a few months younger than forward Alexandre Grenier. Unlike Grenier, Gudbranson is by far the most experienced player on our list, being a veteran of 322 NHL games.
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Gudbranson started his career with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs in 2008. He quickly grew into one of junior hockey’s top prospects, representing Canada in both the under-17 and under-18 World Championships that year. He captained his under-17 team in 2008-09 and the under-18 squad in 2009-10. Furthermore, Gudbranson played at the World Junior Championship in 2011 and later at the men’s World Championship in 2014.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman was considered one of the top players eligible in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and the Florida Panthers decided to select him third overall. Gudbranson was never an outstanding offensive player, but his defensive ability and decent offensive numbers seemed enough to warrant a high selection.
Defensemen tend to take longer to develop than forwards, but after the draft, Gudbranson spent just one more year in the OHL. He made his NHL debut in the 2011-12 season and stayed there for the rest of his career, except for a two-game conditioning stint in the AHL in 2013-14. Gudbranson was expected to become the next Panthers captain before the Vancouver Canucks acquired him and a 2016 fifth-round pick in exchange for Jared McCann, a second and a fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft.
Where He Is Today
Where is Gudbranson today? That question is not easy to answer. Gudbranson played a major role on Florida’s blue line as the Panthers won the Atlantic Division last season. He also led the club in ice time during the playoffs. However, he was a terrible possession player and the analytics community is sure he will never be the top-pairing player he was once supposed to become.
On the Canucks, Gudbranson is pencilled in on the second pairing alongside Ben Hutton, which seems like a great fit. Gudbranson is a good hitter and shot blocker but doesn’t do enough to get the puck out of the D-zone. Hence the bad possession stats. Hutton, on the other hand, is a strong puck mover who can play accurate breakout passes and drive the puck up ice.
Gudbranson and Hutton promise to be a strong defensive pairing this season. The defense was one of Vancouver’s biggest weaknesses in 2015-16, so as long as Gudbranson is at least half decent, he will be a good acquisition.
Where He’s Headed
At the end of the day, teams really only care about what they have — not what could have been. The Canucks will only care about what Gudbranson does for the club, no matter what happens with McCann. However, fans are not like that. Gudbranson will always be compared to McCann, and fans will look back at the trade, criticising it harder than ever, once we find out what McCann turns out to be.
Still, for Gudbranson, it’s all about becoming a strong, unquestioned top-four player. He likely won’t live up to his draft position, but that’s okay. As long as he becomes a solid second-pairing player, we can all be happy. However, not even that is a given.
Long-term, Gudbranson can become a big-time leader for the Canucks, no matter which D-pairing he plays on. He was always a great leader and Panthers fans expected him to become their next captain. In Vancouver, we all expect Bo Horvat to be the next player to wear the “C”, but when the time comes, Gudbranson will sure be in the conversation as well.