When veteran centre Bryan Little was hurt at the end of the Jets training camp it presented an opportunity for Winnipeg’s 2018 2nd rounder David Gustafsson to stick around in ‘Peg city. The talented Swede would end up playing 22 games in the NHL during his first season as a pro here in North America which also included his first goal in November against the Sharks. He was loaned to Team Sweden for the World Junior Tournament and it was generally assumed he would head back home to play for HV71 when the tournament concluded.
But because he had played past December 1st with the NHL club he was eligible to be assigned to the AHL and that is just where he went following the World Junior Tournament as he was assigned to Manitoba on January 9th. He had suffered an injury in the bronze medal win over Finland which would keep him out of the Moose lineup and IR skating for most of that month. He made his AHL debut on February 6th in Winnipeg and would play a total of 13 games for Manitoba.
In just his fourth game with Manitoba I had a fan tweet me asking me for my impression of Gustafsson. My reply included “I think he’s a really solid player. Mature, strong, excellent in the faceoff circle. Just needs a bit more finish around the net. The AHL is perfect for him to develop. Last night he took last faceoff of game.”
When Moose head coach Pascal Vincent conducted a video chat on Monday after it had been announced that the AHL season was cancelled one of the questions he was asked was for his impressions of Gustafsson’s game during his time in the AHL. The bench boss is clearly impressed with the now 20 year old Swede.
“Very smart. Very smart guy. Mature physically. He’s a very strong young man. Really good on faceoffs. He’s a student of the game. There’s a reason why he stuck with the Jets for such a long. As a coach you trust those players, you know they’re going to go out there and they’re going to be reliable. You have the confidence to put them on the ice when the game is on the line. You need to win that faceoff in the defensive zone to get the puck out or you need to win the faceoff in the offensive zone to create a scoring chance. To me his experience with the Jets and being around Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and those guys gave him a little bit of what it takes to play at that level on a daily basis, on a weekly basis and he took that and I’m sure he observed those guys and he looked at them and he watched them. How they practice, how they play and with the maturity level that he has and the experience already that he has as a hockey player, he took that and he brought that with the Moose.
He continued “At first with us the first few games coming back after an injury he was responsible and we had the trust in him for sure but as the season went on he started to create more offensively, holding onto the puck a little bit longer, creating offense, instead of making the safe play all the time with the puck he was creating, strong on the puck to make plays in the offensive zone or just to carry the puck inside. He’s a very strong guy one-on-one. So all his one-on-one battles, he’s hard to get the puck off. He was protecting the puck even more, but holding onto the puck and creating Ozone time, driving the net. There are so many good things in this case.”
Case in point was his first pro goal in Winnipeg (a shorthanded tally) which came on March 8th in what turned out to be the final game of the AHL season for Manitoba:
David Gustafsson scores a beauty shorthanded to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/SWQu7oNXR6
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) March 8, 2020
That goal and this assist on Kristian Vesalainen’s goal in the same game against the Wild meant the young centre would conclude his season with six points in the final four games of the year.
Heck of a play by David Gustafsson at the Wild blueline. He finds Kristian Vesalainen who scores a beauty to bring the Moose within one. pic.twitter.com/bMqmWh8Cyv
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) March 8, 2020
It is worth noting that Gustafsson and Vesalainen played 10 games straight together on a line and it is clear that they have chemistry on and off the ice which was mentioned by the young centre after the March 8th game against the Wild. That chemistry is likely enhanced by Vesalainen’s ability to speak Swedish after playing for Frolunda HC for two seasons. That will be something worth watching next season.
But while goals and assists are a bonus it is clear that Gustafsson’s bread and butter is his defensive acumen, something coach Vincent acknowledged as he concluded his comments about Gustafsson.
“But at the end of the day to me it’s his mindset. He’s a very mature person. He knows who he is. He knows what he needs to do to have success and that’s what he brings. And for him to understand that part of the game, and it’s the game within the game, it’s a real advantage that he has cause for some players it takes years (for them) to understand who they are and some of them never truly understand and that’s why for some of them they never have the career they should be having. But for David I think he has a really good understanding of what he needs to do and to be proud of it. To be the guy that wants to be on the ice when we have to kill a penalty and taking a lot of pride in doing this and being the best at it. I think this guy is going to be a real good hockey player for a very long time.”