Today we shine the spotlight on one of the Minnesota Wild’s talented goaltending prospects, Johan Gustafsson. The Wild have a crowded goalie situation right now, and Gustafsson will probably be given an opportunity sooner rather than later to see if he can compete in the NHL.
At 6’2″, 206 pounds and just 20 years old, Gustafsson is a large goalie who is agile and can move well in the crease (think Pekka Rinne.) He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, at 159th overall. In May of 2012, the Wild signed him to a thee-year entry-level contract. He is currently playing for Lulea HF in the Elitserien (also known as the Swedish Elite League or SEL.)
Gustafsson has had success in international competition while donning the bright yellow jersey with the three crowns on the front. He helped Sweden earn the silver medal in the IIHF World U18 championship in 2010, and more recently the gold medal in the 2012 World Junior Championship.
In the Elitserien, Gustafsson was nominated for the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year award after posting a 1.84 GAA and a .927 Sv%, though he stumbled in the playoffs and lost the ROY to fellow Swede Johan Larsson another Minnesota Wild prospect.
This year, Gustafsson has continued to play well in the SEL with a 1.77 GAA and a .927 Sv% as of this writing. He has also led Lulea to a number one seed in the European Trophy, a large tournament that starts in the preseason and continues into the regular season, with an equally impressive 1.33 and .940.
As most fans are aware, Nicklas Backstrom and his $6,000,000 AAV contract may very well walk at the end of this season, leaving an opening for a backup netminder and potentially a future number one spot. Gustafsson is certainly helping his cause with his solid play, but even if there was no lockout this year I believe he would still be playing overseas. However, his entry-level contract started this year so it’s likely that we could see him in a Wild or Aeros sweater as soon as next year. After that, it’s up to Gustafsson to take the next step, and we’ll find out if he is the goalie of the future. If he is, the Wild will certainly have found a bargain in their sixth-round draft pick.