PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 01: Drew Stafford #21 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against Erik Gustafsson #27 of the Philadelphia Flyers on October 1 2010 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
After a promising rookie season on the Phantoms, Erik Gustafsson is ready to set his goal higher for his second season.
"My goal is to get a spot on the Flyers. We’ll see if it is as the sixth, seventh or eighth defenseman, but my goal is to be up there with the team when the season begins."
"But if I get sent down, it’s not the end of the world."
"When I signed, my goal for last season was not to be called up, but to just be a sixth defenseman in the AHL and play a lot of games."
Gustafsson admits he had his struggles early in the season, but as the season went on, things took a turn for the better.
"For a while there I had almost the worst plus/minus rating in the whole league, but after Christmas I got my defensive game in control. I wasn’t used to playing so many games and we travelled a lot. Sometimes there are four games in five days there."
"I wasn’t focusing on getting to the NHL during the season, but after Christmas I wanted to be the first or second defenseman in the AHL and be the guy they call up when needed."
The long awaited Flyers debut finally came on a road game against the Senators.
"I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. I tried to be as cool as possible. The first time they called me up, I got nervous by just the phone call. But I believe it helped me a little that I had been up there before even if I didn’t get to play."
"The coach came in the locker room before the game and welcomed me in front of the whole team and many players came to congratulate me. I was pretty nervous, but everyone was really great."
Gustafsson says he remembers there was one player on the opposing team that stood out to him.
"Jason Spezza was one who was impressive with all the speed he had. He did everything so fast."
But there is also one player who stands out on the Flyers.
"Pronger, no question about it. They really missed him in the playoffs. He’s a great teammate."
Gustafsson was one of the players the Flyers called up from the Phantoms for the playoffs. Even if the young defenseman didn’t get to play, he says it was a great experience.
"It was awesome getting to be in the locker room in the playoffs. There were like thirty reporters running back and forth between the players after each game."
Gustafsson has set his goal higher for the upcoming season and believes he has improved enough for the goal to be realistic.
"The area where I improved the most during the season was definitely my defensive game in the defensive zone. The forwards you face there are bigger and stronger. I will keep focusing on becoming better at that and also improve my shot."
There is also still time to improve before the season begins. While Gustafsson says he’s happy to see his friends and family in Sweden, he isn’t going to relax too much in the summer.
"This is the most important summer of my career. I’m focusing on training, eating well and sleeping. I have to prioritize. My big goal is to become a full time NHL player, but it’s not going to come for free. I have to work really hard and as long as I feel like I’ve done everything I can, I can be happy about myself."
This report was based off of a Swedish-language story in the publication Dagbladet.