Erik Gustafsson, signed to a PTO by the New York Islanders, is trying to re-establish his NHL career. After a breakout 60 point year in 2018-19 with the Chicago Blackhawks, he hasn’t been able to recapture that form since.
In the three years since that 60 point season, Gustafsson has put up 41 points across 95 games with stops in Chicago, Calgary, Philadelphia, and Montreal. This PTO is likely his last straw at sustaining his NHL career. Failing to make this PTO work certainly spells the end of that NHL career.
Based on how Gustafsson has played so far in the pre-season, it seems that he’ll likely get a spot on the Isles roster.
Erik Gustafsson working himself into New York Islanders roster spot
Points aren’t everything when it comes to Islanders system, but it’s impossible to ignore Gustafsson’s team-leading four points through the pre-season. Or that three of those have come on the power play.
But Nick Leddy was a 45 point player (based on pace) in 2020-21. Pulock has yet to hit 40 in his career. Assuming, he hits it this year, that only makes up 15 points from his 20-21 pace. Can Dobson make up another 30 points on his pace of 25 from 20-21? Can Dobson become a 55 point player?
I certainly hope so, but I also certainly doubt it. And this is just replacing what Nick Leddy took with him to Detroit. It’s not moving the needle forward. Keeping someone like Erik Gustafsson on the squad can help make up for what the Isles lost in Nick Leddy without placing most of the burden on Noah Dobson.
And if Gustafsson can be this impactful on the power play, the Isles are in fact, moving the needle forward.
What About Defense?
The one big issue with Gustafsson’s game is his play defensively. Now I don’t think he’s immediately become a better defender all of a sudden, but he has shown in the limited number of games in the preseason, that he doesn’t look out of place in the Islanders system.
Again, he hasn’t become a better defender necessarily, but he can play a game that lends itself well enough to what the Islanders are doing. That same system seems to be able to paper over some of Gustafsson’s more obvious flaws.
I was skeptical at first. I wasn’t convinced of Gustafsson’s ability to make it work during his first game in an Islanders uniform. But the more I see the more the fit works. Now, what role he gets is another question.
To me, Gustafsson and Greene are flip-flopping as the sixth or seventh D on the Islanders defensive depth chart. Greene’s lack of action in the preseason tells me he’s perhaps the sixth man in Barry’s eyes. But with every passing game, it seems that Gustafsson is edging closer to taking that spot from Greene.
After all, a lineup of (unit 1) Pelech-Pulock, (unit 2) Chara-Dobson, and (unit 3) Gustafsson-Mayfield is not only balanced left-right, but has a balance attach/defense playing style. Inserting Greene with Mayfield gives the Islanders and all defense pair with little to no breakout potential.