PHILADELPHIA – Erik Gudbranson finally got to meet the player he is so often compared to—six-foot-six man-mountain Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The 18-year-old came away impressed.
”He’s a big guy, very big,” the six-foot-four Kingston Frontenacs defenceman said Friday. ”A lot of people say I’m big but he’s massive.”
Gudbranson was among five top prospects for the June 25-26 NHL draft in Los Angeles—included projected first and second picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin—to pay a visit to the Stanley Cup final.
It started with the traditional group interview of the players and their fathers by Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry. Then there was a spot with Michael Landsberg of TSN, followed by visits to the dressing rooms of both the Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks.
”This is what you dream of ever since you were a kid watching games on Saturday nights with your dad and your mini-sticks and stuff—to be here,” said Gudbranson. ”Unfortunately we’re not part of it yet, but it gives you a little taste of it and gives you more reason to be excited for it.”
It is a toss-up which player the Edmonton Oilers will take with the first overall pick.
NHL Central Scouting has Seguin, a high-scoring centre for the Plymouth Whalers, ranked as the top North American skater, but many others have Windsor Spitfires star winger Hall as the best bet.
Also on hand were third-ranked Brett Connolly, a forward with the Prince George Cougars, Gudbranson and fifth-ranked Cam Fowler, a defenceman who is Hall’s teammate with the Memorial Cup champion Spitfires.
After the Oilers, the Boston Bruins hold the second overall pick thanks to the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto. Florida is third, Columbus fourth, the New York Islanders fifth and Tampa Bay sixth.
The five who visited the Wachovia Center will likely go to one of those teams, although Finnish forward Mikael Granlund or Russian winger Vladmir Tarasenko may enter the mix.
The Oilers braintrust is in meetings this week to decide between Hall and Seguin, who are as anxious as anyone to see where they will be drafted.
But Seguin said they don’t see it as a competition between the two budding stars.
”We’re two competitive guys, we want to be the best, but if I go No. 2 I won’t be disappointed,” said Seguin.
Even though he is certain to go in the top two, Hall took time to speak with nine teams at the NHL combine last week in Toronto.
”These teams wanted to meet with me for the future,” the Kingston, Ont., resident said. ”In hockey there are a lot of trades and contract disputes and whatnot and you never know when you’re going to run into another general manager. I didn’t mind it at all.”
Connelly is an interesting case because he played only 16 regular season games this season due to two hip flexor injuries. Still, Central Scouting moved him up one spot to No. 3 in its final rankings because of his combination of size and talent.
”It was a good compliment seeing my name still there,” he said. ”I had a good 16-year-old year and that was another reason, but it’s great to see my name with the Seguins and the Halls even though I didn’t play much.”
Fowler is a smooth-skating defenceman from Detroit who won gold with the U.S. squad at the world junior championships and then the Memorial Cup with Windsor. He was thrilled to meet what will likely be opponents in the not-too distant future from the Flyers and Blackhawks.
”You see them on the ice, but to meet them off the ice and joke around with them a bit is cool,” said Fowler. ”They’re no different than us.
”We mess around in the locker room in junior and they do the same thing here. It’s cool to see.”
Gudbranson is a big, tough defenceman who makes no secret of his willingness to throw big hits or drop the gloves. That could make a difference in a team’s decision come draft day.
”I’ve got a good idea of where I’m ranked and what teams are potential, but I’m going to let the chips fall,” he said. ”It’s exciting. It adds to the experience not knowing your fate.”