Gudbranson Hoping to Solidify Blue Line

New Penguins defenseman skates with team for first time

Josh Rowntree
February 27, 2019 - 2:26 pm
Penguins defense Erik Gudbranson at his first practice with Pittsburgh on February, 27, 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson took the ice for the first time as a Penguin Wednesday. And he was not exactly hard to miss.

At 6-foot-5, 217 pounds, Gudbranson will, at the very least, add some serious size to a Penguins roster that could use more physicality.

“He's a big man. A big, strong man,” said fellow defenseman Jack Johnson of Gudbranson. “I think he's going to make his presence be known out there. It’s great for us that he’s on our side now.”

Gudbranson was acquired right at the trade deadline Monday. Tanner Person was sent to Vancouver, in exchange. 

“I was walking into my place and was getting a congratulations from my girlfriend for making it through another trade deadline,” Gudbranson said. “Right as she said that, my phone buzzed. It was initially a shock, but it turned into excitement very quickly.”

Gudbranson spent Tuesday traveling to Pittsburgh, unable to play in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win in Columbus. But now, the former first-round pick is ready for a fresh start in his third NHL city. 

“I didn’t feel like I played that well (in Vancouver), to be honest,” he said. “I just never got anything going, never go my confidence to where it needed to be. I’m excited to come here. This is team that can help guys out in situations like that.”

And there is proof of just that. The Penguins got good minutes and production from a similar guy, Jamie Oleksiak, before a disappointing stretch led to his trade earlier this year. Justin Schultz, a highly touted defenseman who never quite developed in Edmonton, has blossomed in Pittsburgh. 

Over his time here, Gudbranson will be asked to provide some edge to his new team.

“Some physicality, for sure,” he said. “I just want to come here and solidify the back end as much as possible. My game is pretty simple, keep stuff in front of me, be tough in front of the net and be physical on guys.”

"We are excited to have him,” Sullivan added. “He's going to bring a physical element to our blue line. He's got good size, he'll be strong in the battle areas, he'll be strong in the net front. He'll bring an edginess to his game that we know is going to help our whole overall group."

More immediately, Gudbranson will be have to fill in for a blue line currently decimated by injury, as Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin remained out of practice Wednesday. Olli Maatta remains out, as well, and Chad Ruhwedel, injured Tuesday night, is out “longer-term” according to Sullivan. 

“I think it’s unfortunate, but fortunate, that I get thrown into it very quickly here,” Gudbranson said. “I’m not necessarily getting my feet wet, I’m really diving in.”

"We think he compliments some of the defensemen that we have,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have a lot of mobile, puck-moving guys. This is a guy who brings a different dimension.

“He is going to be hard defending down-low and we think that skill set is complimentary of the guys we have." 

Another ask of Gudbranson will be his willingness to step up and defend Pittsburgh’s stars, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, often the targets of opponents maliciousness. Gudbranson has a history of fighting, with 27 of them in his NHL career.

“I think what teams don't realize when they try to take liberties on guys like Sid and Evgeni, they don't shy away from it,” Johnson added. “They're tough guys. Sometimes you don't want to poke the bear.”

Johnson may be right about Crosby and Malkin. But now the Penguins have a legitimate ‘bear’ on the ice. That said, it’s yet to be seen if Gudbranson can turn around his career — one that has never seen him register more than 13 points in a season — or even his season, which has him at a career-low -27. 

“I welcome that challenge, for sure,” he said. “This team certainly has of aura about it and you know there’s an expectation here to make the playoffs and go deep every year.”

Hear all of what Erik Gudbranson had to say below.