The Anaheim Ducks have acquired Erik Gudbranson from the Pittsburgh Penguins, sending back Andreas Martinsen and a 2021 seventh-round pick in exchange. That return shows just how little value Gudbranson represented at this point, after struggling early in the season but still carrying a cap hit of $4MM through the 2020-21 season. The Penguins, in cap trouble with players returning from injury, needed to move out at least one defenseman.
It is incredible just how far Gudbranson’s value has fallen in a few short years. In 2010 he was selected third overall by the Florida Panthers—just ahead of Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Brett Connolly and Jeff Skinner—as a potential franchise-changing shutdown defenseman. The 6’5″ behemoth could basically do anything he wanted in his own end at the junior level, pushing smaller competition off the puck with ease.
Unfortunately in the NHL, that defensive ability was tested right away. With no offensive game to speak of to help him move the puck quickly out of his own end, Gudbranson put up poor possession numbers right from the start of his career with the Panthers, and never did become that minute-munching defensive stalwart. Through his first five seasons—309 games—he averaged fewer than 18 minutes a night and racked up just 43 points.
Then came trades to Vancouver and finally Pittsburgh, where he actually showed well in short spurts. Paired with Marcus Pettersson for a time last season, Gudbranson played perhaps the best hockey of his career for the Penguins. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough to save him from this new fate.
Pittsburgh not only had too many bodies on defense, but they have also been pushed right up against the cap all season. Moving Gudbranson’s entire $4MM cap hit was obviously worth it, and the fact that they didn’t need to include any “kicker” is even better. Martinsen represents a minor league addition and will likely not play many games for Pittsburgh, though he will give the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins another experienced body.
In Anaheim, the team will hope they can bring out the good parts of Gudbranson’s game and make him into the player he was once projected to be. The team has been looking for right-handed defense help for some time, and will at least get plenty of experience in the 27-year old.