On July 13th the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Erik Gudbranson, a 30-year-old defenseman from Ontario. Gudbranson played last season alongside fellow free agent acquisition, Johnny Gaudreau. Columbus surprised many when they gave the aging defender a four-year, $16 million contract, quite a bit more lucrative than what most thought the former Flame would bring in.
If Gudbranson had lived up to his draft status (3rd overall in 2010), this contract would be a steal for him. However, he has never quite lived up to his pre-draft hype. That doesn't mean that he is useless, though, as he definitely has strengths that he brings to the table.
Gudbranson is very large, coming in at 6-5, 222 lbs. He is a physically imposing blue liner who isn't afraid to sacrifice his body in order to make a stop. He knows how to punish an opposing player for bringing the puck too close to his net. He is also quite adept at penalty-killing. When Gudbranson tries to do too much with the puck after getting a stop, he tends to get into trouble. But when he sticks to his strengths he is still very effective as an enforcer on the back-end.
He is not known for offense, but last season he did set personal bests in goals, assists, and points with a line of 6-11-17. He definitely outperformed in the offensive zone, posting 2.4 goals above expected. His next highest season was in 2019 when he posted .6 GAE. On the other end of the ice, he also set career records in blocks and takeaways with 92 and 20 respectively. Though, he did show signs of aging while posting a career-high 42 giveaways with 40 of them coming in the defensive zone.
With his sudden surge (according to his standards), of production on offense, Gudbranson could look to contribute something on that end of the ice this season. And if he doesn't overreach too far when trying to aid the offense, he will be a valuable piece of a blue line that gave up a franchise-record 3.63 goals per game last season.