20. Filip Gustavsson (Reader Rank: 20, Last Year: 24)
Hey, look at that: we agree! Again!
After the readers and the staff were of the same mind on Christian Jaros, Filip Gustavsson has climbed four spots to 20th in the Top 25 Under 25 list for both the Silver Seven staff and its readers alike.
When Gustavsson joined the Senators organization in 2018, there was a ton of hype surrounding the Skellefteå native. After all, Gustavsson was a highly touted goalie prospect: in both the U18 and the World Junior Championships (U20) tournaments, Gustavsson was named the top goalie and Gustavsson’s Swedes took home the silver (U18) and gold (U20) medals. He had sterling numbers in the Swedish junior league and was even starting - and playing well in - a decent number of games for Luleå of the SHL. You would think, a few years later, Gustavsson would be much closer to the top of this list.
So, what happened?
Fear not, this is far from a Gustavsson hit piece. As we know, projecting goaltenders is a nearly impossible task. When you look at the position, it’s easily the most varied in terms of where a goaltender is picked in the draft relative to how successful their career is. Take a gander at the list of recent Vezina winners as a prime example. You’ve got a fifth rounder in Connor Hellebuyck, a first rounder in Andrei Vasilevsky, and an eighth rounder in Pekka Rinne. Braden Holtby was a late pick and two time winner Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t drafted at all!
I’m in the camp that Gustavsson still has a ceiling that can lead him to being an NHL goaltender, perhaps even a starter, in the future. With a crowded crease in the Senators pipeline, it’ll be a tall task but Gustavsson has the resume that has me believing it’s possible.
This past season, Gustavsson’s numbers in the American Hockey League weren’t fantastic. His 0.889 SV% ranked him 62nd league wide. Similarly, his GAA (3.23) was 60th. When you dive a bit deeper, though, there is something to be happy about: progress.
While his overall numbers left a lot to be desired, he really turned a page when we rang in the New Year. Up until the end of the 2019 calendar year, Gustavsson had a 0.859 SV% and a 3.98 GAA to his name whereas during 2020, both numbers improved to 0.903 SV% and 2.59 GAA. While he was in net, the BSens record was 7-5-1 in 2019, improving to 8-1-2 in 2020. Part of this jump in performance can absolutely be attributed to Belleville, as a team, finding its stride. But you can’t discount the improvement in Gustavsson’s game specifically.
As we know, since there’s no NHL hockey to watch, Gustavsson’s progress has spilled over to this season where he’s currently on loan with Södertälje SK of HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second tier league.
After starting in 16 games to date, Gustavsson leads HockeyAllsvenskan in games played while sitting third in save percentage (0.922 SV%) and fourth in goals against average (2.30 GAA). He also did this, which is just really fun to watch.
Similar to other prospects who are excelling overseas, there’s the notion that Gustavsson’s numbers are more impressive because he’s playing against lesser competition than that of the AHL. To an extent, that’s correct. But what’s important to remember is that, like Rudolfs Balcers in Norway and Vitali Abramov in Finland, Gustavsson isn’t just posting mediocre numbers in a league that is below the AHL in talent level. He’s a leader in the league and Södertälje SK, a team that’s been middle of the pack the last three seasons, is sitting in third place while being 10-5-0 with Gustavsson as their starter.
When the AHL resumes, whenever that may be, Gustavsson will likely be pencilled in as the backup behind Joey Daccord; although I expect games will be split more evenly than a typical starter-backup relationship. At just 22 years of age, there’s time for Gustavsson to continue improving and make his mark at the NHL level. With a crowded crease in Ottawa, however, it’ll be up to him to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.