Vancouver Canucks: Erik Gudbranson facing make-or-break season

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 3: Erik Gudbranson
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 3: Erik Gudbranson /

After a very disappointing first season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2016-17, Erik Gudbranson is under pressure to perform and succeed if he’s to remain on this team long-term.

Believing the Vancouver Canucks needed a strong stay-at-home defenceman, general manager Jim Benning shipped former first round pick Jared McCann and a pair of draft selections to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson and a fifth rounder.

But Gudbranson’s first season with the Canucks left much to be desired. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound blueliner posted a woeful minus-14 rating (say the plus/minus stat is overrated all you want, but minus-14 isn’t good at all).

Gudbranson struggled in his own end of the ice and was limited to 20 games in 2016-17, as wrist surgery sidelined him for most of the season. The Canucks gave him a one-year extension worth $3.5 million, and then Gudbranson is free to hit free agency next offseason.

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That one year extension is what I like to call a “prove it deal”, which means if Gudbranson can start playing up to his potential, then the Canucks will happily talk about a long-term deal.

But if Gudbranson can’t piece together a solid campaign, then Vancouver will have no problem moving on from him.

The Canucks are fortunate to be loaded on the blue line in a few years’ time.

Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and Olli Juolevi have long-term futures in Vancouver. So Gudbranson isn’t a necessity to keep around in Vancouver if it’s not working out.

The Canucks know that Gudbranson doesn’t come with much offensive upside. He only has 43 points in 309 NHL games, but they are hoping the big and physical Gudbranson can at least morph into a stay-at-home blueliner who can push away traffic in front of the net.

Vancouver is a fairly soft and undersized team, so they need a big man like Gudbranson to make them tougher to play against. Vancouver hasn’t had that physical shutdown guy since Willie Mitchell seven years ago.

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This is why Benning took a risk in trading away a young, promising centre in McCann: He believed that Gudbranson could be a big piece of Vancouver’s blue line that doesn’t come with many defensive-sound players.

But knowing that he has built a defence with enough young talent, Benning isn’t going to keep Gudbranson around for the sake of it. If he plays well, he stays. If he doesn’t, he isn’t coming back in 2018-19. It’s that simple.

Last chance for Gudbranson

The Canucks are still in rebuilding mode, so new head coach Travis Green will give all of his younger players the chances to succeed. Gudbranson (25), is in the same age range as many of the Canucks’ defencemen.

So he will get his ice time, and he will be given penalty killing duties. Gudbranson, like most Canucks, struggled to put it all together in 2016-17. But he only saw 30 games in Vancouver, and it’s unfair to judge him solely on that short season.

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But 2017-18 is Gudbranson’s final chance at showing this team that he’s worth keeping around after next season. As Gudbranson enters a contract here, his play will determine if he’s a Vancouver Canuck or not in 2019.