Cancer-free sibling most important thing to Gudbranson



LOS ANGELES — Erik Gudbranson is the smartest player in junior hockey and quite possibly the best of the rest — the top draft specimen after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

When the Florida Panthers, who have the third overall pick Friday, likely call his name, the six-foot-four, 195-pound defenceman from the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs will pump his fist and hug his little brother Dennis — not necessarily in that order.

It’ll be the second happiest day of Erik’s life, after he hopefully gets the news that 12-year-old Dennis is cancer free. Erik plans on having a party shortly after his brother sees the oncologist on Aug. 18.

Dennis was first diagnosed with leukemia when he was six years old. The family plans on flying in the woman who gave her bone marrow to help Dennis as well.

As much as Erik has lived his whole life for draft day, his brother’s August day is way more special if he’s survived five years without the cancer rearing its ugly head.

“I’ve said it numerous times, but it is true that as special a day as it’ll be for me, to have my brother safe and cured from one of the worst illnesses will be my the biggest day of my life,” said Erik, who remembers when he found out Dennis had leukemia.

“My dad said, ‘OK, we’re going to visit your brother in hospital,’ and I walked in and saw four nurses around him. He was hollering, his hair was falling out . . . that was tough on me, on everybody.”

Erik has a soft side, but on the ice he’s a mean customer. The scouts only saw him for 41 games because he wrecked his knee and had mononucleosis, but they got an eyeful.

“He’s a guaranteed long-term NHLer . . . another Chris Pronger-type,” said E.J. McGuire, head of NHL Central Scouting.

“Chris is mean and he’ll hit you. Erik will hit you and fight you. Pronger is three inches taller, so maybe Dion Phaneuf would also be a comparison.”

After the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins make the first two picks, the Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders fill out the top five, although there is talk the Jackets want to move back in the draft if they can get a body that can help them now, likely a front-line centre, for the pick. Columbus might even give up the pick altogether if they could get Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gudbranson, who speaks two languages and plays the tenor sax, is the best of the three defencemen in the hunt for No. 3 — Moncton Wildcats’ Brandon Gormley and Hall’s teammate Cam Fowler, who made the Memorial Cup all-star team, are the other two.

The Ottawa-area native is also a quote machine.

When he went to see the Islanders, who pick fifth, he got caught in traffic.

“An hour and a half . . . everybody laying on their horn pretty hard. Pretty eye-opening,” Gudbranson said with a laugh.

About the Islanders’ old arena, Nassau Coliseum, he said: “Everybody says the rink is a dump but I see the history . . . I walked through the office, saw Denis Potvin, saw all the Cups lined up. I was blown away.”

Being the scholastic player of the year is a bonus for scouts. He’s smart and talented.

“To be recognized for what you do in the classroom, too, that was a huge honour,” said Gudbranson, who might just be naturally intelligent.

“I bring my books on the road like everybody else . . . but I don’t always open them.”

Edmonton Journal

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