Erik Gudbranson said he wanted to remain with the Panthers for the long haul, and Monday the 24-year-old defenseman took another step toward that.
Although Gudbranson only signed a one-year contract with the Panthers, it was said that was to help create financial flexibility for the team as it pursues long-term deals with Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad.
Gudbranson, who will make $3.5 million this coming season, is not eligible for unrestricted free agency until following the 2017-18 season.
A new, long-term contract for Gudbranson could be signed as early as Jan. 1.
“This is where I want to be, no doubt, and I will be here,” Gudbranson said shortly after the Panthers were eliminated from the postseason by the Islanders last month.
“The foundation is here. These are the greatest guys I’ve ever played with, and this is most fun I have had playing hockey. It’s a privilege to practice and play with these guys every day and learn from them. As a hockey player, you want to be in an environment where you can learn and be creative and get better every day.”
Gudbranson has been considered to be a future candidate for team captain ever since general manager Dale Tallon made him his first draft pick (third overall) at the 2010 NHL Draft in Los Angeles.
With Willie Mitchell expected to either retire or at least not return to the Panthers next season, Gudbranson would be in the mix to wear the “C” in 2016.
“We did some impressive things this year and in South Florida and I think we’ve created a certain amount of trust with our fans,” Gudbranson said. “They noticed how good this team really is, how good some of these kids really are and where this team can go in the future. That’s exciting for someone like me who has been around during the tough years.”