A familiar face enters this year's Top 25 Under 25 in defenseman Erik Gustafsson at No. 13. Gustafsson is coming off an up-and-down season with Chicago where he flashed some quality puck-moving skills, but never quite earned the confidence of Joel Quenneville. Now on a deeper team than last year, it'll be interesting to see how Goose tries to differentiate himself.
Birth date: March 14, 1992
Acquired via: Free agency, April 2015
Most recent stop: Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
Size: 6'0, 176 pounds
Contract: Entry-level, signed through 2016-17
Gustafsson joined the Blackhawks last year after his draft rights with the Oilers expired. The defenseman bounced between the NHL (41 games) and AHL (27 games) while trying to establish himself as one of Chicago's steady top six. Instead, even in the playoffs against St. , he was still being rotated in and out of the lineup.
There's a lot to like about Gustafsson's game, especially his passing ability and vision. In his half-season with Chicago, he recorded 14 assists and a 54 percent Corsi, which was among the best on the team. Some of this came in a sheltered role, but the numbers reflect his point-producing ability. He's already a solid NHL defenseman on the offensive end.
The eye test is where it's easier to find some concern. Gustafsson occasionally had issues in his own end -- something Q doesn't have much patience for -- and he's not the kind of offensive d-man who can quarterback a power play with a big booming shot. Goose needs to be able to play a solid two-way game to get steady minutes, but it seems like he might've missed his best chance to make a good impression last season.
At the very least, Gustafsson is a very solid depth option for the Hawks. He's the kind of guy who can easily step into a larger role if there's an injury, and while his defense might be a work-in-progress, the overall package is more than serviceable. That's still valuable on an ELC, even if he's buried under eight other players on the depth chart. Here's another way to put it: Gustafsson helps ensure Viktor Svedberg never plays significant minutes in a Hawks uniform again. That's a good thing.
What's next in 2016-17
Gustafsson enters next season in a challenging position given the offseason additions of Michal Kempny and Brian Campbell. The odds of him cracking the top seven in training camp are slim, so it seems like he's going to head to Rockford and be injury insurance for the NHL team. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it shows how much deeper the defense will be next season, but it's probably not ideal for developing Gustafsson into anything more than a decent depth player. At this point, it's becoming increasingly likely that's all he'll be.
Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings
No. 13: Erik Gustafsson
No. 14: Luke Johnson
No. 15: Tanner Kero
No. 16: Artur Kayumov
No. 17: Carl Dahlstrom
No. 18: Dennis Gilbert
No. 19: Luc Snuggerud
No. 20: Robin Norell
No. 21: Robin Press
No. 22: Dylan Sikura
No. 23: Graham Knott
No. 24: Anthony Louis
No. 25: Roy Radke
Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson