Erik Gustafsson has had an excellent season for the Chicago Blackhawks, but is it just an illuison?
Erik Gustafsson was born in Sweden on March 14th 1992. He was born into a family of hockey with both his older brother Joakim and his younger brother Glenn picking up the sport.
Erik, worked his way up through the Swedish hockey system. He played with Djurgårdens IF, Djurgårdens junior teams and Frölunda HF in Sweden.
In his three seasons in the SHL he put up an impressive nine goals and 47 assists for 56 points in 146 games.
He caught the eye of the Edmonton Oilers scouting team, and was drafted in the fourth round 93rd overall. Yet the Oilers did not sign him and Erik Gustafsson became an unrestricted free agent.
Signing With The Blackhawks
On April 30th 2015, the Blackhawks decided to take a chance on Gustafsson. They signed him to a two year deal worth $667,500 per year. Gustafsson spent some time in Rockford tallying three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 23 games, and earned his first call-up.
Coming Up To The Blackhawks
In 41 games, Erik Gustafsson, put up zero goals and 14 assists for 14 points. He had been a great offensive add, but he had some breakdowns defensively. He still held a 52.1 Fenwick For %, which was better than the team average of 49.6.
The Blackhawks ended up making the playoffs and were playing the Blues in the first round. They had made it to game seven. Erik Gustafsson decides to bring out the puck to the neutral zone where he then preceded to get hit by Robby Fabbri. The puck ends up bouncing to Paul Statsny. Erik Gustafsson again makes a mistake and covers Paul Statsny, who is already covered by Artem Anisimov, leading to a two on one which the Blues converted on. The score was three to two. Here’s the play here (skip to 3:05-3:20).
Back In Rockford
After the season ended and into the preseason Erik Gustafsson was in Joel Quenneville‘s dog house and was sent down to Rockford.
Gustafsson was resilient and pushed through it. In 2016-2017 he spent the entirety of the season in Rockford putting up five goals and 25 assists for 30 points in 68 games, while also working on his defensive game.
Gustafsson once again next season started out in Rockford. He really showed his offensive skill again tallying three goals and 14 assists for 17 points in 25 games. He also took on a leadership role getting the “A” with the IceHogs.
The current Rockford IceHogs coach, Derek King, stated in a recent article by the Daily Herald “I’m a big believer that if you’re a top-notch player or a high-end player, coming down here you have to control the game.”
This is exactly what, Gustafsson, was able to do. He played great offensively, improved defensively and took on a leadership role with the team.
Second Stint With The Blackhawks
After that stunning start with the IceHogs, Gustafsson, was called-up once again after a year and a half in the minors. In his first game back, on January 20th 2018, he recorded a goal and an assist for two points against the New York Islanders. Erik Gustafsson was back!
He finished the season with the Blackhawks. He recorded five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 35 games. Gustafsson also put up 54.9 Fenwick For % which was 7.6% better than the team average.
Gustafsson, of course, still had his defensive deficiencies turning over the puck 23 times to his 12 take aways. But he showed his promise and that he was going to be a special player.
Breakout Season Or One Year Wonder?
I was optimistic about Gustafsson’s offensive production this year, but never would I think he would be capable of this. He has been averaging 22:17 time on ice, been a quarterback on the top power play unit and has put up insane point totals.
Erik has put up 13 goals (T-4th in the NHL among defensemen), 37 assists (T-10th in the NHL among defensemen) for 50 points (7th in the NHL among defensemen). He also has 17 points on the power play (T-9th in the NHL among defensemen).
While Erik Gustafsson has put up excellent offensive numbers, he has still struggled in his own end. He has a 48.9 Fenwick For%, 25 takeaways to 65 giveaways (-40 GV:TK) and has a xGF-xGA +/- of -7.2).
Blackhawks Future With Gustafsson
I believe that Gustafsson is not a one year wonder, but I do believe that this will be a career year. If I had to guess I would say next year he records 12 goals and 35 assists for 47 points. I also believe he will work on his defense a lot over the season and that it will pay off.
Erik Gustafsson is currently on the first year of his two year $1,200,000 per year contract which is a bargain. The Blackhawks should try to bring him back with the impact he’s had on the power play and with his offensive production.
All in all, if Gustafsson can get better in his own end while still scoring a decent amount of points, he will become a top four defenseman on the Blackhawks for years to come.
stats from: hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, quanthockey.com, and TSN.ca