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Erik Gudbranson Signs with Florida Panthers ... Dale Tallon: "He's the Real Deal, a Big Piece of the Puzzle.''

Tallonguds As they were walking out the door together, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon put his hand on Erik Gudbranson's shoulder and said “you're paying for dinner.''

After the day Gudbranson had, no problem.

The Panthers signed the third overall pick of the 2010 draft on Friday with Gudbranson agreeing toa three-year entry level deal that includes a signing bonus as well as various performance bonuses if he makes the Panthers out of training camp.

“We're really excited and really proud. He was the first pick of the new regime and he was a great pick, a great kid,'' Tallon said following the close of the Panthers prospect development camp on Friday morning.

“It's great to have this done with. The business side is a part of it and you have to deal with it. It worked out the way we wanted it. It would have been nice for him to play for us last year, but I'd rather have him at 26 than at 18. We're delighted and excited. He's the real deal, a big piece of the puzzle.''

Gudbranson was the first player drafted in Florida under Tallon's watch although he wasn't the first player acquired by the Panthers new management team in 2010. Tallon traded Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell to the Bruins for Dennis Wideman and a first round draft pick a few days prior to selecting Gudbranson at the 2010 draft held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

After being told he made the team out of training camp, Gudbranson didn't accept the Panthers contractual offer. Because of the impasse, Gudbranson was returned to his junior team in Kingston, Ontario.

Gudbranson, 18-years-old at the time, was obviously upset things didn't work out. He now admits he is better for the experience. Gudbranson scored 12 goals for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League last year and helped Team Canada reach the championship game at the World Juniors last January. Canada lost to Russia in the gold medal game held at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.

“I think I'm more experienced,'' Gudbranson said. “I've already been through an NHL camp, I've put on 20 pounds since then. I feel a lot stronger and faster and I worked on my offensive game. That came into play.''

With two months to go before the start of training camp, the Panthers have locked up what appears to be their final major player. Restricted free agent Shawn Matthias still need to be signed, but the Panthers are happy to have Gudbranson locked up.

The Panthers have yet to sign center Jonathan Huberdeau, the third overall selection in 2011.

“It's always nice to have a top prospect under contract,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “But I'll start on the next top prospect tomorrow. There's always another guy to sign.''

Gudbranson will compete for a spot on this year's team as it appears likely the Panthers will carry seven defensemen. Tallon said on Thursday that the Panthers will take “the best 23 players” following training camp, meaning the team plans to have three more players than required.

Florida currently has five defensemen -- Dmitry Kulikov is in his third season -- signed to one-way contracts and Gudbranson cannot play in the American Hockey League because of his age.

Gudbranson will either play for the Panthers this coming season or for his junior team. Gudbranson could also start the season with the Panthers with Florida having the option of sending him back to the OHL as long as he only plays in nine games. After that tenth game, Gudbranson's first season is in the books.

“It's nice that I can come to the rink and just play hockey,'' Gudbranson said, wearing a blue Panthers warm up suit. “I've always been excited to come to the rink. This is great place to play. I've been excited to come to Florida and do that. My dream is still there. I'm going to make sure I'm here.''

Gudbranson and the Panthers have repeatedly downplayed reports out of Canada that the two sides had acrimonious relations. Gudbranson had apparently been upset with the Panthers for sending him back to his junior team last year; the Panthers weren't happy with his development.

Tallon, Santos and Gudbranson all said none of that was true and the relatively quick signing of Gudbranson seems to prove that. Gudbranson didn't have to sign with the Panthers so early in the summer and could have pushed the issue through training camp – at the very least. Gudbranson could have left the Panthers organization and re-entered the draft had he not signed by next year.

It's obvious neither side wanted to go that route.

“I left it up to my agent to work on the business side so I just came to the rink and played,'' Gudbranson said. “This is a big achievement, but yet just a little step. This is a big team to make, this is the National Hockey League, the best league in the world. I'm going to work my tail off to be here next year, to make the team and make a difference.''

ERIK GUDBRANSON

Position: Defense

Height, weight: 6-4, 220

Hometown: Orleans, Ontario

Opening night age: 19

How acquired: Third overall selection, 2010 NHL Draft

Scouting report: Gudbranson scored 12 goals last season in junior, but he'll do more without the puck than with hit. A strong skater, Gudbranson is more than willing to use his size as he hits anything that moves. Gudbranson says he added 20 pounds in the past year and although he may get beat by more experienced players right now, he didn't look out of place in camp last year and won't back down from anyone.

 

OFFICIAL PANTHERS RELEASE

Florida Panthers Executive Vice President & General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the club has agreed to terms on an entry level contract with D Erik Gudbranson.

“Erik is one of our top draft picks that we are pleased to have signed,” said Tallon. “He is a big, strong, and mobile defenseman, who has demonstrated tremendous work ethic, character and passion for the game. He is a strong, young player with mental and physical toughness who continues to grow and develop in his role. We look forward his continued contributions to the Panthers organization both on and off the ice.”

Gudbranson, 19, was drafted by Florida with their first selection (third overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Ottawa, Ontario native played in all six  of the Panthers 2010 preseason games, recording two points (1-1-2) and 17 PIM.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenseman appeared in 44 games for Kingston (OHL) during the 2010-11 season scoring 12 goals with 22 assists and 105 PIM.  For his career in Kingston, Gudbranson has played in 148 contests registering 79 points (17-62-79) and 242 PIM.

On the international level, Gudbranson played for Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship earning a Silver medal. He also played for Canada’s Under-18 team in Belarus at the 2010 IIHF World Championship and 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

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