Rangers’ physical defensive acquisition could revitalize the unit

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56, New York Rangers) passes the puck during the first period against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers made a depth signing this summer by bringing in defenseman Erik Gustafsson on a 1 year, $825k dollar deal. Drafted in 2012 by the Edmonton Oilers, Gustafsson has bounced around with several teams since making his NHL debut back in 2015. He now finds himself on Broadway with a new opportunity in front of him and some old friends behind the bench.

Gustafsson and Laviolette’s history

Gustafsson comes to the Rangers with seven years of NHL experience and familiarity with head coach Peter Laviolette. He played last year for the Laviolette-coached Washington Capitals and succeeded in his system. Gustafsson came to the Capitals this past season in what was expected to be a low-capacity role.

After an injury to their top pairing defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, Gustafsson was thrown into a more important role and filled it well, garnering trust from the coaching staff and a glowing review from the bench boss.

He’s been fantastic, night in and night out he’s been a very consistent player for us. We knew that he could break pucks out, we knew he had a good first pass, and we knew that he can contribute on the power play. But he is doing an awful lot defensively as well, playing a really complete game.

Peter Laviolette on Erik Gustaffson via The Washington Post

Can Gustaffson revive his career with the Rangers?

Gustafsson played very well last season, essentially reviving his career before being shipped off at the deadline to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 61 games, Gustafsson had 31 points; far from his claim to fame of 60 points in 2018-2019.

However, it isn’t his points the Rangers are looking for on the backend. They are looking for his positive contributions in his own zone, which appeared to take a leap forward last year. With trust from both his coaches and himself, he will push for a bottom-pairing role and look to create some competition in an already crowded defensive unit.

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