Erik Gustafsson says it was a valuable experience for him to play with the Adirondack Phantoms at the end of last season. His instant success with the Phantoms caught him by surprise.
"Ha ha. I think I had scored seven goals total in three seasons before that. It was damn cool to be there and play and everyone was nice. I got to know them a little bit before this season and I also learned a little how some of them play."
Gustafsson was also given a chance to practice with the Flyers during the playoffs.
"I was totally nervous, and in the locker room I sat right next to Chris Pronger. I felt myself pretty small there then. But it was a lot of fun to be there."
Gustafsson says his training program has changed and looks a little different now that he's signed with the Flyers.
"There's a bunch of different training programs and other stuff. It's a little different to what I've been doing before so it's been cool to have some variation."
Gustafsson says his prospect camp was successful.
"The prospect camp went well and they were pleased. Now I'll be going over there and do my best. Then we'll see how far I can go. Hopefully I'll get to play in the NHL in a few years."
Gustafsson will likely play on the Phantoms, but he doesn't see it being a problem.
"That's not important. It's still a step forward for me compared to where I've played before. I also believe that it's a good thing to get to play a lot and gain experience rather than just play a few minutes in the NHL. Naturally I want to play at the highest level possible, but I'm not in a hurry."
Gustafsson signed with the Flyers in March, but he says it's still hard to believe it.
"It's totally surreal. Of course I'm happy, but the best thing in the end is that I can do what I love to do the most. I'm going to go as far as I can and then hopefully some day I will play in the NHL."
Defending the American route
The Swedish hockey federation is trying to stop 15-20 year old Swedish players from leaving the country to play in North American junior leagues by threatening to fine the players who leave before turning 22. Only leaving to play in the NHL would not be punished.
Gustafsson says he's not a fan of the restriction and reminds that he wouldn't have an NHL contract now if he hadn't been allowed to go play in North America a few years ago.
"The federation is trying to work things so that the players would want to stay in Sweden instead. But it seems more like a threat", Gustafsson says.
"I can understand that the federation wants to keep the players in Sweden, but I never would've signed such a contract [with the Flyers]. It would be better if they could grow the interest towards junior hockey in Sweden instead."
"In the USA the interest is bigger, there can be 3000-4000 people in a game in the USHL, the league where most of the college teams take their players from. The level in that league is about as good, or a little better, than the J20 Superelit in Sweden."
"Maybe it's easier to get more people in games in the USA since there are more people there in general, but the junior and college teams there also have their own organizations. NHL organizations don't have their own junior teams there like Elitserien teams have their own J20 teams in Sweden. And the teams are often in other cities than the NHL teams and not competing for fans with them."
Gustafsson has noticed that he's not the only Swede who has taken the unusual road through North American junior leagues.
"There are more and more of those who do that. And it's not that stupid to go from that backdoor. Everyone is not ready for the Elitserien when they are 18-19 years old and finished playing in J20. Then it can be a good thing to play at a good level in North America and in college you have four years for yourself to develop."
"The college level is not better than the Allsvenskan, but not so much worse either. But it's better to be there because you're much closer to the NHL and you get noticed more easily. There are at least three NHL scouts in each game and all the organizations are there watching. If you play in the Allsvenskan it feels like you have to be up in the Elitserien first before you have a chance to get to the NHL."