Erik Gudbranson was looking for a big sophomore season with the Panthers after finishing his rookie year with a flourish in the opening round of last season’s playoffs.

Gudbranson was a defensive force in Florida’s seven-game series against the Devils last spring, yet his second season got off to a rocky start, and the 21-year-old defenseman never really recovered.

When the Panthers open training camp in a few months, Gudbranson said he will be strong after a full summer of workouts and skating as he tries to “figure out my game.”

Gudbranson, as well as the Panthers, expect his third NHL season to be a big one.

“He’s no longer a rookie,” coach Kevin Dineen said.

A shoulder injury sustained last September required surgery and all but wiped out the offseason work Gudbranson did as he didn’t play his first game until February.

“It was difficult,” Gudbranson said. “The season didn’t start very well on a personal front for me after hurting my shoulder. It was a tough season, but we tried to make it better and it just didn’t happen.”

When the Panthers selected Gudbranson with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, general manager Dale Tallon spoke not only of Gudbranson’s size and skill, but also his maturity as well.

Although the Panthers weren’t pleased with how Gudbranson injured his shoulder — he was injured wakeboarding in Canada — they have praised him publicly for how he handled it.

With the NHL’s lockout not yet under way, Gudbranson called his coaches and teammates to apologize for getting hurt so close to the start of training camp. Of course, there was no training camp because of the lockout.

Gudbranson did lose playing time — and money — during his injury, as he was to be assigned to Florida’s minor-league team in San Antonio during the work stoppage.

“A few months in the AHL would have helped big-time,” Gudbranson said.

Instead of playing for the Rampage and getting quality ice time, Gudbranson was suspended by the team for being injured outside of hockey. Gudbranson spent the lockout rehabbing near his hometown of Ottawa.

When the lockout finally ended, Gudbranson returned to the Panthers, although he still was under suspension. When he was cleared to play a few weeks into the season, he briefly went to San Antonio before making his 2013 debut Feb. 7.

Statistically, Gudbranson’s season was an improvement over his rookie season, however slight.

Although he didn’t score any goals while playing in 32 of Florida’s 48 games, he did end up with four assists. Gudbranson’s hits-per-game went up from 2.13 to 2.5.

“He needs to get off to a better start,” Dineen said. “... I think we had real constructive conversations with him on what he has to work on this summer. He’s already taking steps to make sure that his preparation will be exactly what we’re looking for.”