Erik Gustafsson, the puck-moving defenseman who signed a one-year, $3 million contract Monday as an unrestricted free agent, doesn’t yet know what his role will be with the Flyers.
Wherever he plays – probably on the right side on the second or third pairing – he is comfortable with his new team.
“The Flyers are one of the best teams in the league. I think the team they have right now is a tough team to play against,” Gustafsson, 28, said in a conference call Tuesday from Sweden. “They’re playing an offensive type of game. They like the D to join in the rush. That’s my type of game, too. With all the forwards and defensemen we have, and the goaltending, too, I think this was the best fit for me to be part of.”
The Flyers reached the conference semifinals before losing to the New York Islanders in Game 7. Gustafsson believes they are trending in the right direction, which is one of the reasons he signed with them.
“I like how they are playing. I like where the team is going,” he said. “I think we can have a fun season, whenever it’s starting. That’s why I chose to play with the Flyers.”
By his own admission, Gustafsson, who had 17 goals and 60 points and a minus-6 rating for Chicago two years ago but dipped to six goals, 29 points and a minus-9 rating this season, is “an offensive guy. I like to join the rush and play the power play. What I have to learn and be better at is my defensive part of my game. I think I have taken a step from last year. I think I have taken a step even when I was with Calgary and in the playoffs.”
In 10 postseason games with the Flames, Gustafsson had four points (all assists) and a plus-1 rating.
“If I can come in and play like I did in the last couple games in the playoffs, it’s going to be a fun season for me and the team,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.”
He may be best suited playing alongside a defensive-minded partner like Robert Hagg, but that will be decided in training camp.
“I don’t know which one is best to play with for me,” the 6-foot, 197-pound Gustafsson said. “I’m sure the coach can see when we start training camp . … It’s going to be fun whoever I play with. I think we can go a long way.”
The defense, however, is weaker than last year because of Matt Niskanen’s retirement. The offense should be improved if Oskar Lindblom, who missed most of the season because he was battling a rare bone cancer, and Nolan Patrick return to form. Patrick did not play because of a migraine disorder.
While with Chicago, Gustafsson spent time paired with Duncan Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman.
“He can be a little tough on me,” Gustafsson said, “but at the same time, I was learning a lot from him.”
Gustafsson, who had a $1.2 million cap hit last year, shoots left-handed, but has played primarily the right side for the last three seasons.
“I think I played on the left side a couple games with Calgary, but it didn’t feel right,” said Gustafsson, who was traded from Chicago to the Flames late in the season. “Right now, I’m used to playing on the right side, but at the same time, the left side is more easy for me because I’m left-handed. I feel more confidence on the right side. Whatever the coaches' want me to do, I’ll play there.”
It appears Gustafsson will play alongside Travis Sanheim on the second pairing, or Hagg on the third pairing. Phil Myers will probably be given a chance to play alongside Ivan Provorov on the top pairing. With the addition of Gustafsson, a player with similar skills, Shayne Gostisbehere, has become even more expendable.