Panthers draft Ottawa-area blueliner

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:53 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - As the words rolled off Dale Tallon’s tongue, the tears rolled down Wayne and Donna Gudbranson’s cheeks.

Yes, Erik Gudbranson has hit the big time.

The Kingson Frontenac defenceman became only the seventh Ottawa-area groomed player to get drafted in the top 10 of the NHL draft in the last 30 years when he was selected No. 3 overall by the Florida Panthers.

“I’ve never been squeezed so hard by my dad and my mom was ecstatic. It was a great feeling and something I never will forget,” said Gudbranson, wearing a wide smile at the Staples Center.

Yes, there had been plenty of speculation on where Gudbranson, 18, might end up in the draft, but he wasn’t forced to wait long at all. The journey and the dream to the NHL, which has had bumps along the way, has become reality.

“This is an absolute dream come true. This is where I wanted to be ever since I came from the combine,” said Gudbranson. “I’ve worked hard for this and I understand there’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

Gudbranson said he took a look at the Panthers depth chart before the draft and felt it was a good fit. He could have an ever better chance of making the club in September after Florida sent Keith Ballard packing to Vancouver in a deal before the first Round 1.

“The biggest attraction was what Dale Tallon did for the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Gudbranson. “He helped them win a Stanley Cup and he built that team from scratch. I’m really excited to be part of that right now. It’s a team going in the right direction and there’s no doubt I wanted to be there.”

Tallon said the Panthers didn’t just draft Gudbranson because he’s a good hockey player.

“Character is the No. 1 priority as far as drafting where I’ve been involved,” said Tallon. “He’s an impeccable character besides all the skills and all the physical elements. We’re tired of people coming to Florida and having a vacation. With Erik, we’re going to be a lot tougher to play.”

Gudbranson laughed when he was asked what his brother Dennis _ who has beaten two bouts with cancer _ said to him before he headed to the podium to put on his new jersey.

“It was something stupid like, ‘You stepped on my toes.’ It’s okay. He was pretty thrilled,” said Gudbranson.


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