Newly acquired Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson will hit the ice against the Buffalo Sabres, ice cold. He’s not had any systems practice since he arrived on Wednesday.
Gudbranson was acquired for struggling winger Tanner Pearson on Monday afternoon just before the NHL trade deadline. The 27-year-old defenseman had a rough go in Vancouver. He was on the ice for only 34 percent of goals-for. The 2010 third overall pick hasn’t received the warmest welcome from the social media crowd, either.
“No, unfortunately not. (Yesterday), I had to do the medicals and a few other things,” Gudbranson said. “I got to do a video session with a couple of the coaches just to understand in more detail what we’re doing here.”
Unfortunately for Gudbranson, the Penguins blue line corps is not exactly stable at the moment. Only three regulars remain in the lineup–Justin Schultz, Jack Johnson, and Marcus Pettersson. Zach Trotman who is the organization’s ninth defenseman on the depth chart will be pressed into significant action as will frequent healthy scratch Juuso Riikola.
Gudbranson, however, is taking it all in good stride.
“I’ve got a few more things to learn before the game tonight but I’ll be ready to go,” he said.
Gudbranson, 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds will be paired with the lanky Pettersson who is 6-foot-3. It may form one of the Penguins tallest defensive pairings ever, which should have some advantages. Though Pettersson reportedly clipped Gudbranson with his stick during the morning skate, Friday.
“You have to get your way up to get it over my head, so that’s why we wear the helmets,” he laughed.
Pettersson is himself a relative Penguins newbie since he was acquired on Dec. 4. He’s also only 22-years-old, but he’ll be walking Gudbranson through the system, tonight.
“Pettersson is a good skater and a good passer. We talked quite a bit. He’s been sitting beside me for the last few days,” said Gudbranson. “That practice we had back in Pittsburgh, it was pretty easy to work with him.”
“He’s vocal, if I’m in the wrong spot, he’ll let me know and that’s certainly helpful.”
The Penguins appear to be ready to ride the physically imposing Gudbranson as a second pairing defenseman in the absence of Kris Letang and Chad Ruhwedel. Gudbranson is a right-handed defenseman which the Penguins lacked for most of the season. Until Justin Schultz’ return to the lineup in mid-February, Letang was the Penguins only righty defenseman.
Now the Penguins have a righty on each pairing but the second and third pairs with Gudbranson and Trotman, who have played a combined one game between them for the Penguins.
“We’re trying to give them a rudimentary understanding of how we’re trying to play but we’re not going to give them too many details because we don’t want them to overthink out there,” Sullivan said. “We want them to act on their instincts and so we’ll add the detail as we go.”
The Penguins have back-to-back games this weekend. Tonight the Penguins will play in Buffalo. Tomorrow the Penguins are in Montreal, which is one point ahead of them for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot. It won’t be easy. And the game won’t be as simple as the Penguins hope. With four defensemen, the Penguins nearly held the fort against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday and they squashed the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tuesday.
Gudbranson said Wednesday he was excited to be in Pittsburgh because of the Penguins reputation of helping players reclaim or find their potential. (Read Shelly Anderson’s story here).
Maybe keeping it simple is the answer as Gudbranson hopes to begin his reclamation project. Ready or not, the Penguins need him, immediately.