Erik Gustafsson - #25 In The Top 25 Under 25

Jim McIsaac

Above we have the more heralded Erik Gustafsson. I'll be talking about the less heralded one.

There could have been a lot of different players in this spot. There were forty-two players eligible for this edition of the Top 25 Under 25, and thirty-four of those players earned at least one vote inside the Top 25. But it was a young Swede, Erik Gustafsson, who won the day and kicks off this edition of the Top 25 Under 25 in the 25th spot.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Alan
Ben
Bruce
DB
Derek
Jon Michael Ryan Scott
25 Erik Gustafsson 1992-03-14
93 2012
21 26 25 23 31 26 34 27 19

Previous Rank: 29

Gustafsson moves up four places from the summer, and while I have him ranked the highest, he benefited most from a couple of huge moves from Alan (#41 to #21) and DB (#34 to #23). I think that kind of move is justified in this case. I wrote about Gustafsson just a few days ago, and noted that he's having a solid season:

Gustafsson is playing with Djurgården in the Swedish Allsvenskan (Swedish second division). It's not a great league, but it is at a higher level than the Canadian Junior leagues, and Gustafsson is having a very good season. He leads the defensemen on his team in scoring with 20 points in 42 games, is second on the team in shots on goal with 111 (2.6 per game), and is +11 at even strength.

That's a solid season in a professional league from a player who, to my knowledge, has yet to sustain any serious injuries in his career. And once you get to the mushy middle of this group of prospects, I rate that quite highly. But not everyone agrees. Michael has Gustafsson pushed down all the way to #34:

I don't think anything is egregiously wrong with Gustafsson; he's just an unheralded prospect that doesn't seem to deserve a ton of heraldry. His 0.48 points per game places him 13th among defencemen (with > 10 GP) this year in the Allsvenskan, Sweden's AHL-equivalent, but is tops among defencemen on his team, Djurgården. However, it seems his team's entire defensive corps flew the coop once Djurgården was relegated from the SEL after last season, as I don't see any similar names on the roster this year save for Gustafsson. During his 41 games in the Swedish Elite League last season, he posted a 0.17 points per game rate, good for 59th among defencemen in the league and 5th on his team. And it's not like he was an 18-year old beanpole -- he was 20 years old by last season's end.

The Oilers have a history of selecting odd Euro defencemen in the mid-portions of the draft (Johan Motin, Roman Tesliuk, Ivan Koltsov, Michael Svensk, and Alexander Lyubimov just since 2000) that may well have never existed to the franchise. I need him to break through the obscurity and provide a bit more evidence for me to consider him a legit NHL prospect.

There's a lot of truth in what Michael is saying. Gustafsson certainly isn't a blue-chip prospect like Victor Hedman who was scoring half a point per game in the Swedish Elite League as a teenager. Not many are. But the fact that Gustafsson isn't a blue-chipper doesn't make him a write-off.

SEL teams tend not to give their young players much by way of ice time, and Gustafsson is just one more example. He played just 15:08 per game, but that's not particularly unusual. Patrik Nemeth, the top defenseman drafted out of Sweden in 2010 (Gustafsson's original draft year) played just 17:10 per game in 2011-12. Jonas Brodin played just 17:27 per game and Oscar Klefbom just 13:43. Those last two were a year younger, but they were both first round picks. And none of these guys produced offense. Gustafsson's 7 points in 41 games actually gave him the third-best point per game rate among teenagers in the SEL in 2011-12, slightly ahead Nemeth, Klefbom, and Brodin. Young defensemen just don't usually have the opportunity to put up offense.

But when he has had the opportunity, he's done well. Gustafsson spent 21 games in the U20 league in 2011-12, and he scored 14 points. This season, with more opportunity, he's close to half a point per game against men. If his club gets promoted (possible, though certainly not a slam dunk), he'll likely get an opportunity to produce offense at an even higher level, and given his history, I think he's got a good chance to succeed.

I understand that Gustafsson is a bit of a long-shot, but that's true of pretty much everyone outside the top twelve or fifteen players on the list. And unlike a few of the players above him on our aggregated list, Gustafsson is actually having a good year.

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