Columbus Blue Jackets 2023-24 player review: Erik Gudbranson had a career year

Erik Gudbranson was moved back into a more comfortable bottom-3 role for the Blue Jackets this season. He rewarded the team by setting career best offensive numbers across the board.
Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets
Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

When the Blue Jackets signed Erik Gudbranson to a 4 year, $4m AAV contract two summers ago, there were not many positive reactions. In fact, I don't recall seeing any.

Most people assumed that Gudbranson - then 30 years old and entering the likely decline of his career - would get a one or two year contract somewhere. Maybe three, if the AAV was kept low.

But Jarmo Kekalainen threw a hefty 4 year deal at the big man, that was just too good to pass up.

His first year in Columbus was not good. In fact, everyone who spoke ill of the team signing Gudbranson in the first place, were proven correct. This season, however, I feel like he won some of the 5th line over, for a couple of reasons.

Gudbranson set career highs in assists (20), points (26 - 9 higher than his previous best), and tied his career best with 6 goals. He did this while averaging 19:39 per game, which is still probably a little bit too much for a team wanting to compete for a playoff spot. But, at least this year (unlike last), he was able to hold his own in those minutes.

When the Jackets signed him to this contract, the expectation wasn't picking up a guy who would score a ton of points. In hindsight, I don't even think Kekalainen would tell you that they saw Gudbranson in a top-four role; which is where he's had to play with this team's thin blue line.

The idea was to add a heavy veteran presence, who could eat up some depth minutes and take on physical matchups. This team was getting pushed around way too much the year prior to his signing, and they needed to hold the opponents more accountable. The Metro Division has gotten a lot tougher, and the Jackets needed to keep up.

With a young defense corps - many of whom were undersized - this was a necessary evil. Gudbranson isn't a true enforcer in the traditional sense. What I mean here is, he doesn't skate around looking for a fight. But, when he needs to, he more than holds his own. That's exactly what this team needed.

They just paid a little bit too much for him, for a little bit too long, and have been using him too far up the lineup.

B. Final season stats: 70gp, 6g, 20a, 26pts, -14, 74PiMs, 91SOG. . Erik Gudbranson 2023-24 grade:. Gudbranson 23-24

This year, Gudbranson brought some surprising offense, and won a lot of hearts for his willingness to stick up for teammates - and himself. Whether that's $4 million worth or not is certainly up for debate. But, I thought he earned a solid passing grade.