Rangers’ Erik Gustafsson has been a game-changing addition this season

New York Rangers defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) scores a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the first period at Xcel Energy Center
Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers’ new veteran defenseman Erik Gustafsson is on his seventh stop in his eighth NHL season. The Swede started his career in Chicago, playing 4.5 years for the Blackhawks, before making short stints with Calgary, Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago again, Washington, and Toronto. Now, he is trying to find a permanent home in New York with the Rangers.

Reuniting with HC Peter Laviolette

Coming off a 42-point (seven goals and 35 assists) year between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs, Gustafsson inked a one-year, $825,000 deal with the Rangers on the first day of free agency. The 31-year-old defenseman had other options on the table but wanted to reunite with Peter Laviolette in New York.

“For me, it’s a little advantage,” Gustafsson said of his familiarity with Laviolette. “I remember last year when I came into Washington, I was nervous with a new system. Coming in this year, I feel more confident. I think it shows in my game out there, too. I can focus on the practice more. I feel confident and I think it’s helped that I played with him last year.”

Sasha Kandrach via NHL.com

Stepping up in the absence of Adam Fox

When Adam Fox went down in the Rangers’ win vs the Carolina Hurricanes on November 2nd, fans were worried about who would replace him in the lineup. It’s hard to replace a perennial Norris candidate who had 11 points in his first 10 games of this season.

In the four games since he’s stepped up, Gustafsson has had a point in all four with one goal, five assists, and six points including an assist extending his point streak to four games Sunday night against Columbus.

On top of his assist, he also tallied two blocked shots and hits. Gustaffson has shown there doesn’t need to be a worry as he’s been nothing short of fantastic filling in for Fox.

Erik Gustafsson makes an impressive play against the Wild

Last Thursday, when the Wild came into MSG, Erik Gustafsson made a crucial play leading to the Vincent Trocheck goal. Wild defenseman Dakota Mermis was attempting to clear the puck off the right wall. Just as the puck was going to trickle into the neutral zone, Gustafsson was able to get his stick on it to keep it in and find Alexis Lafrenière who was able to find Vincent Trocheck for the goal. His heads-up play was able to net the Rangers an early 1–0 en route to their 4–1 win.

“Gustafsson has been a first unit power play guy for most of his career and so obviously there’s going to be a little transition there because of the hands, but Gustafsson’s more than capable of jumping in,” head coach Peter Laviolette said when asked by Jonny Lazarus about having a left-handed shot as the QB of powerplay one.

Gustafsson’s presence is helping Braden Schneider develop

“With Gustafsson, who is a better NHL D-man at limiting shots & chances through his career than Jones (EG is league avg.), Schneider then ends up coming out looking pretty good statistically as a complement. While it is too early in the season for tracking data that might show some impacts in the transition game, I think most would agree that Gustafsson is especially noticeable because of his skating ability. He consistently not only moves the puck forward, but then joins the rush providing another outlet option. This leads to the better on-ice statistics for Schneider because the Rangers are then moving towards generating offense.”

Via Rob Luker on X

Since making his debut on January 14th, 2022, Braden Schneider has had a revolving door of partners. His top two partners in terms of TOI were Ben Harpur and Patrik Nemeth who are known to be big, stay-at-home defensemen.

This made Schneider the one in the pairing transitioning the puck out of the D-zone which he’s been statistically bad at. Having Erik Gustafsson, a good play-driving defenseman, allows Schneider to become an outlet on the rush giving him better on-ice statistics.

Schneider praises Gustafsson

After their first game against the Buffalo Sabres, Schneider had this to say about playing with Gustafsson:

“The way he skates and moves the puck is top notch. Playing with him is very easy. Our games complement each other nicely. Obviously, I’m a bit more defensive and try breaking up pucks and it makes my job easy when I can go D-to-D and know he’s going to be breaking out like nothing. He’s fun to play with and I’m glad he’s here.”

Via Sasha Kandrach of NHL.com

The Rangers should extend Gustafsson soon

As Schneider said himself, having a good puck-moving defenseman such as Gustafsson has allowed him to hone in on his defensive game instead of doing everything like he was when paired with Harpur or Nemeth. It is only a matter of time before the Rangers extend Gustafsson and solidify him as Schneider’s long-term defensive partner.

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