Still needing to fill the blueline void created by the salary cap ejection of Nick Leddy, the New York Islanders may be adding a surprising and less-than-perfect name to the mix.
Erik Gustafsson will join the Islanders for training camp on a PTO (professional tryout), according to a report-tweet by Chris Johnson.
Like Leddy, Gustafsson is known for his offensive skills, though he is not in the same tier as the former Islander. Also like Leddy, the knock or lingering question about Gustafsson’s game is the defensive side, though again, the concerns are far deeper in his case.
From Sweden, Gustafsson broke into the NHL with the Blackhawks, who signed him after the Oilers let his rights lapse. The left-shooting, 6’0, 2012 4th-round pick has bounced around since, logging 250 regular season games. He was used a lot on a bad Hawks team, then not as much on a...not so great Flyers team.
The Hawks sent him to Calgary for a third-round pick before the deadline in 2020, but the Flames let him walk. He signed with the Flyers for 2020-21 and saw just 24 games with them before being shipped to the Canadiens.
The Canadiens used him in five regular season games and 16 playoff games during their run to the final. A recent Hockey News post on potential PTOs around the league captures that experience like this:
Gustafsson’s struggles were on full display in the Stanley Cup final, giving up the puck that led to multiple goalies in Game 3 before getting pulled from the lineup for Game 4 and 5. Gustafsson might actually benefit from playing forward and moving back to the point on the power play, but he’s still a defenseman at this point. The offense isn’t the concern here: it’s his incredible ability to give the puck up at the absolute worst times. In bursts, he can provide value, but someone, somehow, needs to tone him down a bit.
Perhaps Barry Trotz and staff can work some magic with him, at...age 29. Or perhaps he’s a stopgap until one of the Islanders’ very-green but promising blueline prospects steps up.
With considerable excitement for the Islanders navigating their cap troubles and keeping most of the band together this summer (Jordan Eberle was lost to expansion, but Kyle Palmieri and Anders Lee return while Zach Parise joins the fold), this position and Life After Leddy was always the question mark.
Clearly, that question remains.
I need to see Gustafsson in Trotz' system for my own amusement.— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) September 16, 2021
PTOs are usually either a “yeah, we’ll probably sign you but you have no leverage so arrive healthy and motivated first” situation, or else a “Sure, we need bodies for training camp and you can come along, who knows what might happen?” scenario.
We won’t get a true sense of which way Gustafsson falls until the preseason games get underway or some catastrophic injury has us thinking “well at least we have insurance.”
In the meantime, we can mull over this experiment. If Trotz & Co. can reshape Gustafsson to fit their system, we will know conclusively that Barry is a practitioner of black magic to be feared as well as respected.