What are the Rangers getting in Erik Gustafsson
When the New York Rangers inked defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal for $825,000, it was an unexpected but intriguing addition in free agency.
Two weeks prior, young defenseman Zac Jones signed a two-year extension with an AAV of $812,500. Along with veteran defender Ben Harpur, it was expected that the two would battle it out on the left side to partner with Braden Schneider on the third pairing.
By adding the 31 year-old Swede, that dynamic has now changed and could lead to some interesting scenarios this season.
Erik Gustafsson signs with Rangers
The signing of Gustafsson has new head coach Peter Laviolette’s fingerprints all over it.
Washington brought in the left-handed defenseman on a one-year deal last season and Laviolette was very impressed with his overall game. In particular, he cited Gustafsson’s ability to breakout of the d-zone and willingness to compete for pucks.
That battle level and being able to play solid defense was something Laviolette stressed during his introductory press conference.
“For me it’s also about – you prepare yourself to play playoff hockey,” Laviolette explained. “When you watch the playoff games, it’s a reminder that the compete inside the game is what makes teams great. You have to practice that on a daily basis. It has to start in training camp and become part of your DNA.”
While it is very early, Gustafsson seems to have the inside track on getting the first opportunity to play alongside Schneider come opening night on October 12.
What are the Rangers getting in Gustafsson
When the Capitals realized they were likely to miss the playoffs, they dealt Gustafsson to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline.
The Leafs acquired Gustafsson for depth and used him sparingly. A source that watched him play (9 regular season games and two playoff contests) stated he was good with the puck leading to offense.
On the flip side, it was noted that Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t appear to trust him defensively. That led to him being utilized more often when Toronto dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
This insight aligns with what Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic wrote regarding the Rangers’ offseason acquisition.
In conclusion, it looks like the Rangers decided to add some insurance to the roster with Gustafsson. There’s no doubt he is an upgrade over Harpur for the seventh defenseman spot due to his puck-moving ability. He also sounds like a more polished version of Jones. However, I would behoove Laviolette to at least give the youngster a shot due to his greater potential.
Gustafsson registered 7 goals and 42 points in 70 games split between the Caps and Leafs last season. He also missed time with Toronto due to a leave of absence tending to health issue for his daughter.