BUFFALO - Rookie Erik Gustafsson drew the ultimate compliment from teammate Matt Carle, who said the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenseman reminds him of a young Kimmo Timonen.
"He's very similar to Kimmo; he's small but he's smart. He's very smart with the puck and his body positioning and his ability to read plays," Carle said before Wednesday's game in Buffalo. "He's wise beyond his years, and he's one of those guys who seems like he's always in the right place."
Gustafsson was recalled after Chris Pronger injured his right eye last week, and he has played in three straight games. He began Wednesday paired with Carle, and there's a chance he could supplant Andreas Lilja as the team's sixth defenseman after Pronger returns to the lineup.
Pronger continues to make rapid progress. For the first time since he took a stick to the eye on Oct. 24, he skated in Voorhees on Wednesday. He will skate again on Thursday, and, provided Stephen Goldman gives him a good report, he could begin practicing with the team on Friday or Saturday, general manager Paul Holmgren said.
If he continues to improve, Pronger might be ready to play Wednesday at Tampa Bay. If so, he would have missed six games.
As for Gustafsson, he said playing three NHL games last season helped him "confidence-wise. I knew what to expect a little bit. The more you play [here], the more comfortable you feel."
Coach Peter Laviolette likes what he has seen from Gustafsson.
"He's a stocky guy, and he uses his position well," Laviolette said. "While he doesn't give you the presence of Chris Pronger, I think his body strength [is high]."
After the morning skate, Laviolette said he thought winger Jakub Voracek, who entered the night with two goals and three assists, was "on the verge" of putting up good numbers.
Voracek, acquired in the trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus, had been goalless in eight straight games.
"I see a lot of effort, a lot of energy," Laviolette said. "I think with his talent, eventually that's going to turn into numbers. When you come to a new organization, there's a learning curve that comes along, but he's past that now."