As deeply as he loves it, Erik Gudbranson resisted all urges for adventure this summer.
Besides booking a direct flight to Toronto and making weekend jaunts back home to Ottawa to pound stakes in support of his mother’s political campaign (more on that later), the formidable Canucks defenceman — who memorably was enjoying an African safari on the day he was traded to the Canucks — refused to let the travel bug bite him the way the injury bug has since orcas splashed his apparel.
Projected to patrol the Canucks’ second pairing alongside Michael Del Zotto this season, the six-foot-five, 220-pound right shot has appeared in a grand total of 82 games since joining Vancouver two years ago. Each of the 2010 third-overall pick’s Canucks campaigns has been marred with surgery, a not-so-merry Christmastime wrist procedure in ’16 and season-ending shoulder operation this past March.
“It’s been a tough couple of years, a couple big surgeries. That’s part of the reason I came to Toronto this summer — to be in the right program and get myself feeling good,” explains Gudbranson, 26.
“The biggest thing for me is just not get hurt.”
Del Zotto sold Gudbranson on training this summer with BioSteel’s Matt Nichol, and the player’s agent hooked him up with sessions with highly regarded skating coach Dawn Braid.
Rehabbing diligently since June 1, the hard-hitting, stay-at-home blue-liner now asserts that his shoulder “feels really good,” and with Vancouver committing three more years and another $12 million to the big man, the club is banking on better than a 50 per cent rate of attendance.
In a recent chat with a small group of reporters, an insightful Gudbranson addressed the state of the Canucks, touching on president Trevor Linden’s abrupt departure, the excitement surrounding the roster’s new additions, and the void left by your favourite Swedish doppelgangers.
On the peculiar feeling of entering camp without Daniel and Henrik Sedin:
“There’s going to be a lot of new experiences without them there, and we’re going to have an opportunity to grow as a group. We’re going to be challenged in ways we haven’t been challenged. They’ve held down the fort for so many years and set the standard. [Now] we have to create that.
“They’ve been running our power-play for a long time, finding back-door tap-ins for a long time. They did so much for our team, so much in our locker room that unfortunately you guys won’t be privy to. They’re such amazing people. It’s going to be different, but it’s not a bad thing. We’re excited for their retirement; they had such a great career. We have to go in a different direction now. Everybody needs to up their game and fill those spots.”
On why it’s difficult to overstate the vacancy left by the Sedin twins:
“It’s hard to put into words, actually, what they mean to us in the dressing room. You ask what it’s going to be like without them. I know we have the character in the room to go in the right direction without them, but there’s certainly going to be a learning curve without them. They’ve done everything for that city. You need a question answered? Just walk over to their side of the room. Pretty easy.”
On the remaining Canucks who can fill that leadership void:
“Once you get back to camp and start seeing the boys again, that role will emerge. It’s not something you guys will know now. It’s something that will grow into something bigger. There’s lots of leadership in that dressing room. Tons of guys with great character. It’s sad to see the Sedins go, but they’ve groomed that dressing room very well and set a standard very high that we have to uphold.”
On the captain-like characteristics of 23-year-old Bo Horvat:
“He’s got all of ’em. He’s a good player, he battles, he’s a great guy in the dressing room. He’s as professional off the ice as he is on — if not more. He’s got all the tools you need for something like that, and I think guys would be excited about that.”
On if NHL captaincy is overrated:
“No. Absolutely not. You need a captain. That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. But, no, that’s part of hockey. You need a captain. I don’t know what their plans are, if they have a guy in mind, but there’s lots of guys who could do it.”
On much-hyped Vancouver prospect Elias Pettersson:
“His highlight videos are ridiculous. I saw him play two years ago, a 3-on-3 at rookie camp in the summer, the way he commanded the middle of the ice was impressive. He dominated the rink within the rink at a young age. The kids we have coming up have a lot of hockey sense. They’re quick, they’re fast, they’re smart players, and we should be very excited about them.”
On if UFA signings Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, who each inked four-year deals, contradict a rebuild:
“We picked up guys we really needed. We picked up some guys that are coming to take pucks to the net and get in the dirty areas. We got caught last year at certain times playing to the outside and not commanding the centre of the ice and really dominating. That’s where the game’s won. If you control the centre of the ice, you should win the game. We brought guys in who will get their noses dirty, and they’re good players as well. I was very excited to see those signings.”
On Vancouver’s 2018 first-round pick, Quinn Hughes:
“Very talented player. He moves the puck well. His control is impressive. His skating is extremely impressive. From what I’ve heard, he’s a great kid, great individual, and that’s something you should pay a high price for.”
On whether defence prospects are best served waiting to make the NHL jump:
“Patience is always a virtue, whether that’s one year or three years. It’s the best league in the world. You can have all the talent, but it’s about making the right plays at the right time. It’s also being physically ready. Look at the guys in the gym here: They’re big men. You don’t want to throw someone who’s not developed enough into the line of fire. I think there’s a lot of value to going back. I went back for my third year of junior [and put up a career-best 34 points in 44 games with the Kingston Frontenacs]. I wanted to be [in the NHL] when I was 18, but that year was one of the best years I’ve played, and I grew big-time. If they’re ready and they can handle it, by all means [play in the NHL]. We need ’em. If they make the team, they make the team.”
On what struck him about Linden’s summer departure:
“The saddest part is that he’s such an icon for that team and he’s done such great things for the city of Vancouver. It’s sad to see him go. I mean, you get to pick his brain. He comes to eat lunch with you and stuff like that. [You can ask him] how to deal with a situation and whatnot. He’s a good person to talk to. [The reasons for his exit] are way above my head. I don’t know the ins and outs of that, but I wish him nothing but the best.”
On what stands out about 2017-18 super rookie Brock Boeser:
“He’s got a ridiculous release. Ridiculous release. The puck’s on his stick and off of it in a split second. The control he has with his wrist shot is extremely impressive. Something to watch, for sure.”
On his mother, Donna Leith-Gudbranson, running in the Ottawa municipal election (Innes Ward) this October:
“We’ve been pushing her for years. She used to work in the former councillor’s office for six years. She’s got so many great ideas. She knows the area so well; she’s been living there for 25 years. She finally did it, and we’re super-pumped about it and hope to get her elected. She’s definitely the right person for the job. She can tell you where every pothole is in the whole ward. I’ve gone back [to Ottawa] twice now. This past weekend I was punching signs into people’s lawns. It’s fun.”
On following his mom’s political path:
“I don’t know if I’m much of a politician myself. I’m enjoying this hockey thing right now.”
On hope bubbling in Vancouver after three consecutive playoff-free seasons:
“I’ve said this for a while now: I think this team is a diamond in the rough. Vancouver has a lot going for itself. It takes time to rebuild. It takes time to learn the process, how to manage the ups and downs. We’re learning as a group, and that’s really exciting. You know, I’ve spoken to a lot of my teammates this summer. Guys have been calling each other, checking up on each other, making sure we’re ready to take another step forward.”