24. Filip Gustavsson (Reader Rank: 16, Last Year: 8)
As we progress through our articles detailing this year’s Top 25 Under 25 rankings, one of the recurring themes will be just how deep the Sens’ system is. In another year, or in another organization, Filip Gustavsson might not have taken so dramatic a tumble down the rankings. This might also be the case of a temporary dip, the readers have him much higher than the staff for instance, and goalie prospects are notoriously difficult to predict. Gustavsson also has a good pedigree; he was named the top goalie at the 2018 World Junior Championships and prospect guru Corey Pronman had this to say about him in his NHL farm system rankings in August 2018:
Gustavsson has been one of the top goalies in his age group for the last few years. He was the top goalie at the World Juniors and he was decent at the pro level this season. He’s a big, smart goalie with good athleticism for his size. He looks like a pro in the net with his size, the way he moves, and very structured game. Gustavsson isn’t an incredibly dynamic player, but he consistently makes tough stops without letting easy ones get through due to very good hockey sense.
At the end of the day, however, these are all just caveats: Gustavsson struggled in the 2018-19 season, losing the AHL starter’s job to Marcus Hogberg and bouncing back and forth to the ECHL. Gustavsson’s numbers were unsightly in both leagues, an .887 save percentage in Belleville and a ghastly .827 in Brampton. I’m of the mind that it’s difficult to know what to make of ECHL performance since the league is about as far from professional hockey as you can get while still carrying the title. That doesn’t make Gustavsson’s struggles a good thing, however.
There were mitigating factors in Gustavsson’s difficulties last year, including the presence of a truly incredible number of goalies. Hogberg, Mike McKenna, Jake Paterson and Mike Condon (remember him?!) all played games for Belleville in addition to Gustavsson. The team, while much improved, still missed the play-offs and defensive play wasn’t always its calling card. Nonetheless, Gustavsson will need a much improved performance this year to keep his position in what is now a very crowded goalie pipeline in Ottawa.
As we head into this season, the assumption is that Hogberg is in the driver’s seat to start the year as Belleville’s starter but Joey Daccord will be there to battle for the back-up job and Mads Sogaard will be chomping at the bit once the season is over in the CHL. This isn’t to say that Gustavsson’s fate is sealed, far from it, but a lot can change in a year — especially for young goalie prospects. Gustavsson’s seen the negative side of rapid change in the last year; both he and the Sens are hoping that this year he can see the positive side.