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2018-19 Penguins’ Season in Review: Erik Gudbranson

Our season review series continues with a look at the rugged defenseman who came to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


Player: Erik Gudbranson

Born: January 7, 1992 (27-years-old)

Birthplace: Ottawa, Ontario

Shoots: Right

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 217 pounds

Contract: Cap hit of $4,000,000 through 2020-21 season

Regular Season History

via: hockeydb

The stats from his professional career can tell you a lot about the player Gudbranson is. Accumulating 10 points in 76 games split over two teams during the ‘18-19 campaign, Erik Gudbranson has established himself as the prototypical big-bodied, physical defenseman that many GMs around the league love. Adding in the fact that Gudbranson is a right-handed shot, something the Penguins desperately needed to round out their D corps, it is easy to see why GM Jim Rutherford traded for him at the trading deadline.

With all that being said, however, this physical style of play has caused Gudbranson to be labeled as a one-trick pony, who isn’t really as effective as the above description claims he is. His advanced metrics, as you see above, leave quite a bit to be desired.

CF% and FF% are the two possession stats I like to look at when examining how impactful a player was on the puck possession front for his team. Again, keep in mind that Gudbranson’s role was sheltered alongside Marcus Pettersson and the sample size is not massive, but a 54.7 CF% and a 54.1 FF% are encouraging signs that Gudbranson was not a total drag.

Almost 60% of his zone starts as a Penguin came in the defensive zone as well, so Gudbranson was not really tasked with driving the puck into the opposition’s zone, which could have helped shield some of his shortcomings.

Game of the Season

A 23-game sample size (including playoffs) isn’t a whole lot to go on in terms of picking a game that really highlighted Gudbranson as a player. Given that Gudbranson was put in a sheltered defensive role with his limitations, I’d say his “best game” came on March 2, 2019 in a 5-1 win over the Canadiens. Gudbranson, in his second game as a Penguin, registered one assist with a +3 rating while logging 20:27 in ice time.


With only four playoff games to his name as a Penguin, there is not a lot to show for Gudbranson. Granted, the entire team looked defeated in the Islanders series, but on the bright side, he did register a goal in Game 2.

Chart from Charting Hockey

In the most basic terms, the chart above shows that Gudbranson was... pretty good as a Penguin. The visualization aids in showing that in his 19 games, Gudbranson held his own in the puck possession department.

Data from hockeyviz:

The first chart above illustrates Gudbranson’s career trajectory to this point as a defender. Throughout his career, he’s mainly been a top-4/top-6 d-man who has not really lived up to where he was drafted (third overall by the Panthers in the 2010 draft).

The second chart simply shows the teammates Gudbranson has played with as a Penguin, how he was deployed on the ice, and a ranging list of stats.


Opposing teams were not afraid to take their chances shooting at Matt Murray with Gudbranson on the ice.


With and without Gudbranson, the Penguins were still shooting away at opposing netminders. This can be attributed to their style of play and the amount of offensively-gifted stars the Penguins carry. But even with Gudbranson on the ice, the Pens were a force to be reckoned with in the o-zone.

Ideal 2019-20

Ideally, Gudbranson comes into 2019-20 and builds on the successes he found while adjusting to the Penguins’ game. Can or have the Penguins coaches really fixed the issues that have dragged Gudbranson down from his top-3 draft pick pedigree? That remains to be seen. To put it bluntly, Gudbranson just has to not suck.

With the team paying him $4 million to essentially be a bottom-pairing defender, combined with the $3.25 million from another bottom-pairing player in Jack Johnson, there may be some internal and external pressure to try and be a saving grace on the right side of his D pairing, when he doesn’t have to be that with Justin Schultz and Kris Letang ahead of him.

Realistic 2019-20

Realistically, we get more of the same from the big defender. Capped offensive upside, but a big frame to lay the body and another right-handed shot along the blue line to help Letang and Schultz.

Worst Case 2019-20

Worst casilly, case scenario is Gudbranson becomes a boat anchor alongside Jack Johnson, his possession numbers stink, and he drags everyone on the ice down with him. Opposing teams prey on the lack of skill Gudbranson has while he goes to make a big hit, and the other team scores a goal in the process.


Even with his shortcomings and the salary cap outlook combined with Jack Johnson’s deal, do you feel Gudbranson has earned a place in the Penguins’ top-6 heading into the 2019-20 season? Sound off in the comments below.



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