After the CBJ made the big free agency signing of Johnny Gaudreau, many fans forgot about the signing of Erik Gudbranson. He was brought in to provide some veteran leadership and toughness on the defense. The 2022-2023 season was tough on the entire CBJ organization, Gudbranson included. Can the veteran defensemen have a bounce back season in 2023-2024?
D Erik Gudbranson
6’5”, 217 lbs
2022-2023 stats: 70 GP, 1 G, 12 A, 13 PTS, -24, 57 PIMs
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, July 2022
(Originally selected 1st round, #3 overall, 2010 NHL Draft)
Contract: $4.00m AAV through 2025-2026
Role: Third pairing defensemen
Erik Gudbranson was signed as a free agent to improve the defense. The stay-at-home defensemen was supposed to help nurture the younger defensemen along with provided some toughness on the back end. In 2022-2023, he did bring some toughness to the team. However, the long list of injuries to the team put Gudbranson in a less-than-enviable position. Gudbranson was forced to play higher in the lineup and take on roles that may be overwhelming for him at this point in his career. Gudbranson was forced to play in all situations, which took a toll on his personal statistics.
The Blue Jackets defense will look a lot different in 2023-2024 with the additions of Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson. Those two players coupled with the return of Zach Werenski and possible emergence of David Jiricek, will help improve the overall stability of the defense. This will help Gudbranson tremendously. Last season, he was asked to do way too much. With all the injuries and lack of depth, Gudbranson was forced to play on the first defensive pairing, which he is not well-suited for. Now he can play on the 3rd pair defensive unit, which should put him in a better position for success. He won’t be facing top line players consistently and won’t be asked to take on more responsibilities that he can handle.
One bold prediction: Gudbranson will play 70 games or more this season and will have a plus/minus rating of +5 or better. Not having to face top lines consistently and having fewer responsibilities will aid in Gudbranson’s game. He should be on the ice for few goals and, if the offense improves as expected, he could be on the ice for more goals scored by the CBJ. That would improve his plus/minus rating significantly. Going from -24 to +5 is a big jump but it is not out of the realm of possibility. If Gudbranson is put in better position for success, the likelihood of his plus/minus rating improving goes up significantly.
Three keys to success:
- Bring the toughness. The CBJ will again be one of the youngest teams in the league in 2023-2024. Opponents often try to bully or intimidate young teams to break their confidence. The CBJ need Gudbranson to continue to bring the toughness and snarl every night. Opponents need to know that they cannot push the CBJ around this season.
- Find a suitable D partner. With all the injuries last season, Gudbranson had a new defensive partner weekly. Now the depth is there on defense and, if injuries can be avoided, chemistry can be developed with other defensemen. Gudbranson is a defensive defenseman and could use a good puck mover as his d-partner. Maybe someone like Jake Bean or Adam Boqvist would be a good fit alongside Gudbranson?
- Stay Healthy. There is a lot of depth on the CBJ defense in 2023-2024. If someone misses time due to injury, it is possible that his spot in the lineup could be taken by someone else pushing for playing time. The CBJ won’t send Gudbranson to Cleveland and it will prove difficult to move him, both of which are due to his contract. So, if he misses time due to injury and loses his spot in the lineup, he could end up being a healthy scratch for some time. He needs to stay healthy and lock down his spot in the lineup.
Erik Gudbranson is a good, veteran defensemen and will be leaned upon in 2023-2024 for his leadership. He signed the big contract back in 2022 and he needs to live up to that contract. He is expected to have a good season in 2023-2024. If his game struggles or he struggles with injury, then questions may arise about his future in the CBJ lineup going forward.