The Flyers are now under one week away from kickstarting what promises to be an intense and unique NHL season. While the team enjoyed a quiet offseason and were able to retain a strong core, their defensive shape will see quite a change. Matt Niskanen’s surprise retirement has shuffled the entire group and in order to add in some extra depth, the team signed Erik Gustafsson.
A new beginning
An offensive defenseman, Gustafsson broke out in 2018, putting up 60 points and finishing sixth in the NHL among D-men. While the former fourth-round pick took a while to find his footing with Calgary after a trade, he did score 4 points through 10 postseason appearances in the Bubble. This was surge in production he will be hoping to carry over into life with his new team.
It won’t be easy. Moving to a new team always presents a new set of challenges, but doing so in the current climate where there is no preseason and training camp passing by in the blink of an eye, is a very different Mountain to climb.
“It’s a little difficult.” The new signing said on Saturday. “At the same time, I’m trying to ask if I have any questions to the coaches and players. I think I’m getting a hold of it pretty quick here. The camp is only ten days. I’m feeling confident right now. It’s all good.”
A familiar face
The Swede spent a chunk of the offseason working out in his home country with fellow Flyers teammate Robert Hagg. Many assumed that Hagg would join Erik Gustafsson on the third line. With Camp coming to a close, that does indeed appear to be the case. When asked about the significance this has, Gustaffson spoke glowingly of his new linemate.
“I can speak English, but it’s always easier to speak Swedish. He’s been here for a long time, so he knows all the plays we are going to make or calls. He’s been helping me out a lot and is a good player. It’s fun to play with him too. He’s tough. So far, it’s great.”
Hagg recently signed a two-year contract extension after a strong 2019 campaign. He led the team in hits during his fourth season at the NHL level, as well as blocks per-60 minutes of players that had played in more than 5 games. His physical skill set could be the perfect complement to Gustafsson, whose attacking-minded playing style has led to criticism at the other end of the ice throughout his career.
Erik Gustafsson turns the page
The good news is that he’s finding comfort in Vigneault’s system.
“When I started in Chicago, my first year, it’s kind of similar to what we are doing right here. When we got the new coach in Chicago, it was a little bit man-on-man and in our own zone, not as much pinching and going up on the rush as much. I think Calgary, when I started there, it was the same thing. It was a little man-on-man. I prefer this, what we are doing here and I think this is more challenging for the other team to play against. I think it’s more effective. That’s why I signed here. I think it’s going to be a huge part of my game too, to be on the rush and get up in the play. Trying to make those easy plays in our own zone, to get up and get the puck to forwards and then follow up. Getting used to it right now. We played it back in the time in Chicago. I like this system we have here.”
With confidence clearly beginning to build, Erik Gustafsson and his silky skating have caught the eye of James Van Riemsdyk.
“Yeah, he is super smooth.” JVR told reporters. ” He moves the puck really well and is just a smart player all around. He is definitely a guy we are happy to have on our team. We have gotten a chance the last couple of days to do some power-play stuff with him and he is really good up top there, too. That will definitely be a big part of his contribution to the team.”
Even Alain Vigneault was filled with nothing but praise for the one of the team’s few offseason acquisitions.
“Obviously, a new player to a new team and a new organization.” AV started out by saying. “For the most part, I have liked what I have seen. I do think as he gets more familiar with the way we want to do things, the way we approach our preparation, our expectations- coaches to players, I think the more he understands, the better he is going to play. It is hard for someone coming in to a new style of play. There’s a new emphasis on different things, but he seems like a very good young man. He is very receptive to the things I have told him and Mike Yeo who runs the D has told him. I see that he is picking it up every day and that is what he needs to do if he is going to be an effective player for us.”
It will be interesting to see how Erik Gustafsson plays during tomorrow’s scrimmage and beyond, but it looks as though he’s not only found a home on the third line, but in the City of Brotherly love.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire