New Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson gets ex-teammate’s stamp of approval
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Since they were teammates with the Florida Panthers for four seasons, Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bjugstad is well qualified to give a scouting report on newly acquired defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
He did that after morning skate as the Penguins prepared to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
“He’s a big, stay-at-home defenseman that you like to have on your team because he makes it hard on your opponents,” Bjugstad said. “He’s a big, strong kid that makes a good first pass. He’s a good guy too.”
One key element of Bjugstad’s evaluation of Gudbranson stemmed from a moment when they weren’t teammates, however.
Earlier this season, when Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks took on Bjugstad’s Panthers, the 6-foot-5, 217-pound defenseman tangled with Florida pest Micheal Haley.
Gudbranson dislodged Haley’s helmet with a series of left-handed jersey jabs, then held the Panthers forward at bay with his long reach while he threw a torrent of right-handed bombs before the pair tumbled to the ice.
It was a good indication of what Penguins fans can expect from Gudbranson, Bjugstad said.
“He’s very vocal, a fun guy to be around for everyone. I think he’ll be a good fit here,” Bjugstad said. “He sticks up for his teammates. I watched him fight Haley this year. He did really well, and that’s no easy opponent. He’s a tough defenseman to play against and he’s a guy you want on your team.”
The lingering questions about Gudbranson as he joins the Penguins have nothing to do with high toughness. They’re centered around whether he can help his new team keep pucks out of their net. He is, after all, a league-worst minus-27 this season.
Coach Mike Sullivan said he thinks the Penguins can help Gudbranson in that regard.
“Our hope is that we’ll cast him in a little bit of a different role here in Pittsburgh than maybe he played in Vancouver,” Sullivan said. “He’s a steady defenseman that brings a physical dimension to our blue line. We believe he’s going to make us harder to play against.”
Gudbranson won’t play Tuesday night as he works out immigration issues.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .