NHL 2010 Top Draft Prospects: Erik Gudbranson

Erik Gudbranson, a 16-year-old defenseman last season, began his rookie season as the captain of his Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario League.

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Let’s read that again.

He was the captain of his Canadian Major Junior team as a 16-year-old rookie!

“Coming in as a rookie you don’t ever expect that, it’s never in the book that a rookie gets a ‘C,'” Gudbranson said early last season. “It’s a true honor and I’ll wear it with pride.”

He started that season winning gold with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, then put up 22 points in his first 63 games. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound defenseman is a powerful prospect that has many NHL scouts buzzing.

“There’s no mistaking his physical presence on the ice,” a scout said. “He’s tough in front, tough along the boards, finishes checks with authority.”

The Orleans, Ontario native, likes to model his game after Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Anaheim Ducks’ defenseman Scott Niedermeyer. He is a two-sport athlete, as he used to play soccer before he became more serious about a hockey career.

Gudbranson is already a very strong skater with great speed. He is a power play specialist, as he can quarterback the man advantage to perfection.

On the other side of the puck, though, he is very inconsistent. Sometimes, he’ll make a great stick check and create a rush going the other way, while other times, he is found in the wrong position.

The other thing scouts are missing occasionally is the toughness aspect of his game. Sometimes it’s there, but other times, he seems soft. “The one thing I’ve seen in him [this year] that I didn’t see last year was his toughness,” another scout said. “He threw some solid hits the other day, big open-ice hits. You really like to see that.”

This season with the Frontenacs, he equaled his point total from his rookie year, while playing in 22 less games (23 points in 41 games). He was also a plus-11, with 68 penalty minutes, which shows just how physical a presence he can be on the ice. He stands up for teammates and leads his team, as every captain should. The fourth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Gudbranson will be ready to step into the NHL in another year, yet don’t be surprised if he is skating on NHL ice in the 2010-11 season.

Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News , he has also worked for the Philadelphia FlyersHe is the general manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com .

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