(Dobber's Note: If NHL teams can call up a player from the minors to fill in for an injury/absence, why can't we at DobberHockey do the same thing? Some great hockey minds contribute to the PG Advised and Dub's Take. So when we need content due to a sick or absent columnist, we pluck a recent one from the forum. This is an excellent audition for any up-and-coming writers who think they have the insight and skills to get into this business. Contribute, get noticed, and who knows? Perhaps we'll call you up from the minors next!)
I can stay silent no more! This kid has been teetering on the brink of being my next prospect profiled ever since I finished up my bit on Jaden Schwartz. Actually, he's a guy I've been tracking since before Schwartz ever got onto my radar. I started looking at this kid when he was still playing in college last year but as an undrafted free agent was seeking an NHL contract. There's been an influx of undrafted NHL talent from the college ranks in recent years and with the instant success of guys like Tyler Bozak I've been searching for the next big thing. Well Gustafsson was touted in the top 10 of the available college free agents from last spring so naturally he was on my radar and with such an acumen for offense it was clear there was only one way he was getting to the NHL.
Now I'll preface this by saying that I don't think Gustafsson is an immediate buy but there's a lot of reasons to like this kid. For one, he just dropped a big five points recently to shoot up the AHL scoring list.
He currently leads the Adirondack Phantoms in scoring by far with 20 points in 26 games. That sits him tied for the AHL lead in defenseman scoring and third in AHL rookie scoring.
One major knock is the fact that he is also a team worst minus-22 on the year, but the Phantoms are the worst team in the AHL and don't have a plus player on the team so some perspective is necessary. It's also worth noting that Gustafsson was never touted as a great defender. His calling card is and has always been his ability to move the puck and run a powerplay, something he is clearly doing very effectively. Size is probably his biggest issue in the defensive end where at 5'10" 180 lbs. he is going to get manhandled by bigger forwards. But he is fleet of foot and has a good stick so teach the kid some positioning and he can be effective.
I don't want to focus on the negatives here though. He's ripping off an incredible scoring pace for a rookie, let alone a rookie defenseman. And it's not like he's checking in as one of those super old college grads. He turned 22 on December 15. Plenty of time to learn and grow.
Success is nothing new for Gustafsson either. After signing with the Flyers last spring he was given a brief pro debut to close out the AHL season. He went for seven points in that five-game taste of pro hockey. This after winning back-to-back Top Offensive Defenseman Awards in the CCHA for Northern Michigan University where he starred for three seasons. Other winners of that award: Dan Boyle, Greg Zanon, JM Liles (twice), Andy Greene (twice), Jack Johnson, and Tyler Eckford. That's pretty good company for Gustafsson.
Just so you get the picture here are his college numbers:
2007-08 - 27 points in 44 games
2008-09 - 34 points in 40 games
2009-10 - 32 points in 39 games
Now again, I don't think he's a buy, unless you play in a really deep keeper league, but you'd be foolish not to have him as a watch. There's no way he cracks the Flyers roster in the two years of his current contract but beyond that the Flyers could be in desperate need of a cheap puck moving defenseman, and they might find they have that option already in their system. With all the money being poured into keeping their forward core together for a long time, they will need to find affordable options and with Pronger and Timonen not getting any younger there is a good chance Gustafsson will be needed.
I know from reading a lot online and talking to my Flyer fan friends that they are optomistic that Gustafsson can be a replacement for Timonen. I'll give them this, on paper there's something to the comparison. Similar size, offensive aptitude and Scandinavian ancestry but Gustafsson has a hell of a long way to go to becoming the depandable minutes eater that Timonen is. Frankly I'd be content if I were a Flyers fan to see him as an affordable replacement to Matt Carle. But perhaps the most apt comparison would be his fellow top offensive defenseman award winner John-Michael Liles. A player who has shown flashes for quite some time and now at 30 is putting it all together. Now no one wants to wait 8 years to see dividends, but you'll also note that Liles was productive from the very start and has never put up below 30 points in a season.
Yes this is definitely a prospect I will continue to track very closely ready to pounce when he gets his shot.
My final thought is that Gustafsson has quietly slipped into Dobber's top 100 keeper league defenseman checking in at 98. If the big man is taking notice then perhaps you should too.
This article was originally published on my sports blog http://stevelaidlawsports.blogspot.com/ if that's something you want to check out.