There’s a new Erik Gustafsson in town, boys and girls.
The Flyers signed Gustafsson — not to be confused with the Erik Gustafsson who occasionally played in Philly earlier in the decade — to a one-year contract worth $3 million. The 28-year-old defenseman saw a fair amount of success as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks the last few years, but his 60-point campaign during the 2018-19 season was easily his best campaign to date.
So, what can Flyers fans expect from the club’s newest defenseman? To find out, we got in touch with Dave Melton (@_DaveMelton) of Second City Hockey for insight on Gustafsson’s potential impact both on and off the ice.
What are Gustafsson’s strengths?
Offensive moments, primarily. He excels in the offensive side of the rink and has no hesitation in joining the play if he sees an opportunity develop. For a while, it seemed like he had an exceptional offensive connection with Patrick Kane. I know it’s strange to say that about a defenseman and a forward, but it was true. He doesn’t have a booming shot from the point, but he’s good at moving around to find open lanes and get the puck through to the net. And when he doesn’t have the puck, he has a strong knack for finding open ice that allows his teammates to find him for passes. All of this makes him a great choice to run the point on a power play. There was a quarter of the ‘18-19 season where the Hawks power play was converting somewhere in the 30% range and Gustafsson’s skills were a big driver of that.
What are his weaknesses?
As you may have already guessed, he’s far from a shutdown defenseman. Gustafsson can get strapped in his own zone for long periods of time and struggle to regain possession of the puck. He’s best utilized in a sheltered role that keeps him away from defensive zone draws as often as possible.
What’s he like in the locker room?
The best advice I can give you related to that is I don’t recall reading or hearing of any issues involving Gustaffson’s off-ice demeanor.
How did ‘Hawks fans react when he was moved to Calgary at the trade deadline?
It was mainly acceptance, because Gustafsson seemed like the obvious trade piece considering he was on an expiring contract. Some segments of the fan base lamented the third-round pick in return. Coming off a 60-point season in ‘18-19, there was some belief that Gustafsson could’ve yielded higher returns if he’d been moved in the summer of 2019. But the Hawks hung on to him and he wasn’t quite as electric in the ‘19-20 season.
What other details should Flyers fans know about Gustafsson?
Gustafsson has unquestioned ability on the offensive side of the rink but he will also have defensive miscues at times that leave fans furious. He was the scapegoat for the GWG scored by the Blues in Game 7 of Chicago’s first-round playoff series in 2016 and spent the entire next season in the AHL because of it. He returned to the NHL in the following season and proved to be a decent third-pairing guy. If Philly has the defensive depth to allow Gustafsson to focus more on offensive situations, he can be flourish in those moments. As I said before, he’s also a strong candidate to be on the power play. But there will be defensive lapses. The trick, it seems, is to keep him away from that end of the ice as much as possible.
A big thank you to Dave for giving more insight on the Flyers’ lone notable roster addition this offseason. If you’re not already, be sure to follow him (@_DaveMelton) and Second City Hockey (@2ndCityHockey) on Twitter for news and notes on the Blackhawks.