#12. Filip Gustavsson (Reader Rank: 10, Last Year: 20)
Filip Gustavsson: Sens Goalie of the Future
Filip Gustavsson: Sens Goaltending Safety Net
Filip Gustavsson: Backup or Bust
All three of these epithets could work right now for the man known as Goose. He is the lone goaltending prospect in the Ottawa Senators system with any NHL action, as well as the only one with more than 10 games of AHL experience. Though Kevin Mandolese, Mads Søgaard, and Leevi Meriläinen have all shown promise, they have minimal pro experience. Gustavsson is the only one likely to make a significant NHL impact over the next three years, especially considering he just signed an extension that is two-way for this season and one-way for next, penciling him in as the 2022-23 backup. It’s important to remember he’s only 23, despite feeling like he’s been in the AHL forever, and will have several years in his athletic prime ahead of him. On the other hand, 2021 was his first season putting up a save percentage over .900 in the AHL (min. 10 GP), and Sens fans a year ago were ready to anoint Marcus Högberg the next starter, Joey Daccord the next backup, and Goose as a bust. Gustavsson wouldn’t have seen a second of NHL action if the three goalies in front of him hadn’t all got hurt. Are 13 AHL games and 9 NHL games (and, I guess 19 SHL games before North American hockey started back up) enough to forget three seasons of subpar AHL (and ECHL) play?
Gustavsson was picked in the second round of the 2016 NHL draft, 55th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He entered the collective hockey consciousness after the 2018 World Junior Championships, where he was stellar in backstopping the Swedes to a silver medal. He’d become a Senator later the same year to much fanfare, as part of the trade that shipped out Derick Brassard and brought in the pick that was traded down to become Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonathan Tychonick. He joined the Belleville Senators for seven games at the end of the season, and was reasonable, putting up a .910 save percentage. The Sens had found their goalie of the future. Accordingly, he debuted at #8 on the 2018 Top 25 Under 25.
The next season was rocky for a few reasons. First of all, Högberg had better numbers to start the season. Secondly, Andrew Hammond was assigned to the AHL, and received a number of starts, even after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche who loaned him back to the B-Sens. Mike McKenna had also been re-signed by the Sens, who was there to insulate the two prospects. Gustavsson spent some time with the Brampton Beast, though he only found his way into two games, putting up an .827 and 5.38 in albeit a tiny sample size. An .887 in 31 AHL games didn’t look much better. The next season, the veterans were out, but Daccord joined the mix. Daccord and Gustavsson each found their way into 24 games, with save percentages of .915 and .889 respectively. It was looking like Gustavsson was the third-string goalie of the future. He was named the goalie of the month for January 2020, with a 4-0-1 record, posting a .942 save percentage and a 1.78 GAA. Still, most Sens fans saw this as a callback to his former potential, not a prediction of what was to come.
Fast forward through Covid, and Gustavsson has suddenly thrust himself back into the conversation as the best goalie in the system. Not even the goalie with the highest ceiling, but currently, the best goalie. Matt Murray appears to have collapsed after two Cup-winning seasons with the Pens. Anton Forsberg has never done much at the NHL level, and looks to be at most a low-end backup. With Högberg unqualified after a dismal season, and Daccord claimed by Seattle, Gustavsson has a direct path to the starter’s crease. His .910 in 13 AHL games last season were good, and his .933 in nine NHL games was even more impressive. Especially when you consider that he started unexpectedly playing only because everyone ahead of him got hurt. Instead of saying he’d crumbled under pro pressure, we’re now ready to call his first two pro seasons growing pains.
Gustavsson has had a funny trajectory in the Top 25 Under 25. Like I said before, he debuted at #8 in 2018, then fell all the way to #24 (!!) in 2019, and mostly held steady at #20 last year. It’s not often a player falls from the top 10 to almost out of the rankings, and then comes back to nearly crack the top 10. We’ll see if having a guaranteed AHL starting spot on night 1 gives him the confidence he needs to truly cement himself as the franchise’s starter of the future.