WINNIPEG, MB – Even before Cole Perfetti left for the World Juniors, it always felt like David Gustafsson was first on the pecking order if the Winnipeg Jets had to recall a forward.
Frankly, it would have been downright shocking if the Jets recalled a different forward from the Manitoba Moose on Wednesday morning, and that’s no slight on the other prospects in the system. The thing is, not only has the 21-year-old centre been the most valuable forward on a very strong Moose team this season, his skillset is undoubtedly the most NHL-polished of any player in the farm system.
According to InStat, Gustafsson — long renowned as a two-way shutdown centre type — has averaged a team-high 19:36 TOI/GP in 23 AHL games this season. He’s scored 11 of his 16 points during 5-on-5 play, where he boasts a 60% CF and a 57.7% xGF rating to boot. He is a staple on both the power play and penalty kill, playing a huge role on the latter (which is best in the AHL). He wins 58% of his draws, too.
Manitoba Head Coach Mark Morrison told reporters after Manitoba’s 3-2 win over Grand Rapids last Saturday: “It’s just nice to have him on the bench because you lean on him all the time and in every tight situation. [I say] ‘Gus, go’ and he gets it done.”
Gustafsson may have only been called up in wake of a Blake Wheeler injury, but don’t be surprised if Winnipeg’s 2018 second-round pick earns himself a permanent spot in the Jets lineup. Besides, we’re talking about a young player whose defensive abilities make up the foundation of his game and earned him 22 NHL games at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season when he was just 19. He’s wise beyond his years.
“For his age — at this level — what he does with the puck, how he thinks the game, he’s like a 30-year-old guy,” Kristian Reichel told reporters after the Moose’s last home game on December 11.
The Jets’ AHL affiliate even named him an assistant captain. Jeff Malott says he, a 25-year-old, looks at the younger Gustafsson as a role model.
“He’s just such a genuine guy,” Malott told Full Press Hockey via Zoom after Manitoba’s Tuesday practice. “He’s so nice and welcoming to everybody and he’s got such attributes on and off the ice. He’s the nicest guy off the ice and then on the ice. There’s no doubt he’s setting the standard for our work ethic, our intensity, our attention-to-detail, just our pace of practice in play every and that seamlessly translates to games. The guy is setting the standard everywhere across the bar for us and he’s just such a great kid.”
Sounds like Gustafsson (the player and the person) is ready to graduate from the AHL, no?
Ever since he was first sent down to the minors two years ago, the message has been that the Jets want Gustafsson to play more minutes at a lower level as opposed to just playing under 10 minutes a night in the NHL. Which is fair. Probably was the right call, too. Playing a high volume of AHL minutes during parts of his formative years helped shine a light on his offensive capabilities, which probably would have never blossomed had he stayed with the Jets — on their fourth line or in the press box — for all these years.
“I don’t think he’s underrated offensively, I think he has more to give offensively and I think that’s going to come.” -Mark Morrison, Dec 11.
The time is nigh for Winnipeg to take the training wheels off of Gustafsson.
The Jets have the worst penalty kill in the entire NHL. Gustafsson is a terrific penalty killer and hey, it couldn’t hurt to give him a chance there. Nothing else seems to be working. The thing is, Gustafsson’s game will never change. His strength is on the penalty kill, in the face-off circle, and on the forecheck. And his biggest weapon is his brain. His progression offensively? Encouraging, sure, but it’s just an added bonus to his already sound game. He is who he is. And who he is, one way or another, is an NHL-capable player.
Who’s next after Gus?
Not to put a complete damper on the previous point, but Gustafsson got injured during Winnipeg’s game against Washington on December 17. So, depending on how many games he’ll miss (if any), the Jets may need to make another forward call-up. There’s no clear-cut answer as to who that’d be, but there are a couple of viable options.
One player that would make a lot of sense is Mikey Eyssimont.
The 25-year-old forward is quick, plays with an edge, and produces a lot of scoring chances. According to InStat, Eyssimont’s impact at 5v5 is quite profound. He’s averaging a team-high 0.57 primary points and 3.30 shots on net per game. Plus, the 4.90 shot attempts he puts up per game are the second most of any AHL forward this season.
Before the Jets inked him to a two-year, two-way pact last summer, Eyssimont spent three seasons in the Los Angeles Kings minor league system. A fifth-round pick at the 2016 draft, Eyssimont sort of got leapfrogged within the Kings organization as an influx of young talent surpassed him. The Littleton, CO native recorded 0.40 points per game through the 162 AHL games he suited up for with the Ontario Reign before this season. Eyssimont, who has yet to play in an NHL game, has tallied 12 points in 18 games (0.60 points per game) this season.
That name may not sound overly familiar to some, but no player has climbed faster up the organizational totem pole as Malott has. After playing four years at Cornell University, the Burlington, ON native arrived at Moose training camp as an unknown commodity ahead of the shortened 2020-2021 season. He quickly ascended up the depth chart, solidifying himself as a top-six player for Manitoba last season by recording 20 points in 34 games. This prompted the Jets to sign him to an entry-level contract last summer.
Obviously, given that NHL taxi squads diluted the AHL talent pool last season, it wasn’t a given that Malott would carry over his play from last season into this year. But he has. With 13 points in 25 games, Malott’s offensive production has stayed relatively in tow with last season.
#MBMoose forward Jeff Malott continues to lead the AHL in Inner Slot Shots/GP.
— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) December 14, 2021
In a Zoom interview after Moose practice on Tuesday afternoon, Malott spoke to one of the main question marks with respect to his game.
“Something I want to try to do more of is trying to implement more open-ice speed to my game. I had a couple of chances in the last couple of games to really build up some speed but I think, if I want to see more success, that’s something I can do to make those steps.”
Other options include Austin Poganski, C.J Suess and Kristian Reichel.
Better Berd Man
It was after Mantioba’s November 23 practice that I asked Morrison about the white elephant in Manitoba’s room at that time: Mikhail Berdin’s horrid start to the season.
“I think he’s been good. I think he can be better. I think he knows that he can be better,” Morrison said.
At that time, Berdin had a .887 SV% through his first 10 games played. But it wasn’t even just his play in the crease, as it almost always is when it comes to goaltenders. A lot of it pertains to Russian goaltenders playing the puck. The 23-year-old has always had a knack for stickhandling and passing, seeming like a main puck mover on the breakouts, at times. But it was biting him badly early this year. Morrison alluded to poor decision making being the rationale behind that.
“We’ve talked to him about this,” Morrison explained. “We never want to take that puck playing away from him. It’s a skill that he has and it’s a new goaltender type. He gives us an advantage. You’ve probably seen some of the breakouts passes he can make and it gets [our team] out of trouble. I think it’s just picking the right times to do it and the decisions he has to make can probably get better and he’s working on that.”
Berdin wasn’t getting too rattled, though.
“Every goalie can make mistakes — like it always happen,” Berdin told Full Press Hockey. “It happens with [the] best goalies in NHL, too. I don’t [get] too down.”
In the five games he’s played in since that discussion, Berdin’s put up a .910 SV% and has been more conservative with the puck in his own zone. While I understand Manitoba not wanting to reveal anything in the media that would get Berdin off of his game (especially with how shaky he’s been at times this season), I think we ought to really wonder if the organization is okay with the amount he plays the puck. It’s almost like he’s dying to get involved in the play at times, which is no surprise considering the Moose surrender the least amount of shots against per game (24).
While he's shown some improvement as of late – it's sequences like this, where Mikhail Berdin leaves the net to play the puck as an opposing forechecker is coming in hot, that are just mind-boggling..IMO pic.twitter.com/n8WYM1ZYS0
— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) December 12, 2021
Look, all I’ll say is when your defence is filled with very sound puck movers in Ville Heinola, Declan Chisholm and Leon Gawanke (plus Dylan Samberg can sauce it around pretty good, too), Berdin’s puck skills don’t help. When Manitoba’s defence was abysmal back in Berdin’s first two seasons, Berdin’s unique puck skills were intriguing and efficient. But now it’s getting kind of old.
Ep 32: Bruins Fire Bruce Cassidy; Avalanche To Stanley Cup; Bolts/Rangersby Full Press Coverage on June 8, 2022 at 4:09 pm
Mike, Jim, and Chris react to the Bruins firing of Bruce Cassidy, the […]
Ep 73: Bruins Face Elimination; Bruce Cassidy On Hot Seat; Patrice Bergeron Final Standby Full Press Coverage on May 12, 2022 at 4:00 pm
Ian and Chris discuss game six between the Bruins and Hurricanes and the […]
Ep 72: Bruins Acquire Hampus Lindholm; More Moves To Come?by Full Press Coverage on March 20, 2022 at 3:34 pm
Ian and Chris discuss the trade of Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins and what […]
S3E33 - Stanley Cup Final - Avalanche vs Lightningby Jim Biringer on June 19, 2022 at 12:00 pm
Jim is joined by Marc Weiss and Coach Jay as they discuss the Stanley Cup […]
S3Ep32 - Eastern Conference Final and Colorado Avalanche Advanceby Jim Biringer on June 11, 2022 at 9:37 pm
Jim is joined by Coach Jay and Marc Weiss to discuss the Eastern […]
6/24 - WSOP; NBA Finals Talk; Stanley Cup Coming To An End; NBA Draftby Full Press Coverage on June 24, 2022 at 2:15 pm
Ian and John are back to discuss the World Series of Poker, the NBA Finals […]
6/15 - Celtics Falter In San Fran, Can They Force A Game 7?by Full Press Coverage on June 15, 2022 at 4:23 pm
Ian and John discuss the Celtics loss in Game 5 and what they have to do […]
6/13 - Goodfellas; Celtics/Warriors, Stanley Cup Finalby Full Press Coverage on June 13, 2022 at 4:46 pm
Ian and John discuss the Celtics loss in Game 4 and look ahead to Game 5 […]