The Florida Panthers took steps to securing the future of their blueline Thursday by re-signing restricted free agent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a two-year deal. The young defender has not quite lived up to lofty expectations following his being selected with the third overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but at 22 likely has a ways to go to get to his ceiling.
"Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed," said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon in a statement. "He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community."
In 169 career games, Gudbranson has just 21 points. That's not the kind of production expected from a top-three pick, even if he is primarily a defensive defenseman. Though the points haven't come, Gudbranson has been a bruising physical presence on the back end and has amassed 239 penalty minutes in his young career.
He is part of a young defensive group that includes Alex Petrovic, and as yet to be re-signed restricted free agents Dylan Olsen and Dmitry Kulikov. The Panthers also selected highly-touted defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft and he could make an impact as early as next season.
Gudbranson's new contract is essentially a bridge deal. He will still be a restricted free agent when the deal ends, which gives the Panthers a good chance to see what they can get out of him out of the next two years. If he takes massive steps forward, the club will still have the upper hand in negotiating with him as a RFA and not have to worry as much about him being signed away for nothing in return. If he busts, it's a brief two-year commitment and they can make a decision when the deal is over about what is next for the big defenseman.
Since he's just 22, there's plenty of time for Gudbranson to take positive steps towards becoming that quality defenseman Florida hoped he would be when they took him with the No. 3 pick ahead of the likes of Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner and Cam Fowler.