A two-way centre who performed extremely well in the SHL and at the U18 World Juniors, David Gustafsson checks as the 27th best prospect in this draft class.
He has been overshadowed by another Swedish forward this year but Gustafsson has some really good underlying numbers that look even more impressive when you take into light that he was 17-years-old for the entire SHL season. He was limited in his role with HV71 but made the most of it.
He has been a riser in many draft rankings out there but many are afraid to go all-in with him. That is likely because his defensive game is the stronger side to his game and there are concerns that his offence won’t take a step forward.
With that out of the way, we’ll look at David Gustafsson.
- Age/Birthdate: 17.43/ April 11, 2000
- Birthplace: SWE
- Frame:6-foot-1/ 194 lbs
- Draft Year Team: HV71(SHL)
- U16 SM Gold Medal
- U16 SM Most Assists (14)
- U16 SM Most Points (19)
- U16 SM Most Valuable Player
- U17 WHC Gold Medal
- Hlinka Memorial Bronze Medal
- J20 SM Gold Medal
- U18 WJC Best Face-Off Percentage (70.55)
- U18 WJC Bronze Medal
- U18 WJC Top 3 Player on Team
Having played in the HV71 system for the last few years, Gustafsson made the jump to a full-time role in the SHL this season. He also played some games at the J18 and J20 levels but was clearly too good for them. Before heading to the U18’s, he did play in some playoff games for that J20 squad.
He’s represented Sweden at almost every international tournament over the last few years including Ivan Hlinka (not in the picture) where he had one goal and three assists in five games. He played extremely well at the U18’s to close out this season.
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With any teenager in the SHL, it can create some skewed numbers as they are either playing on a bad team and thus suffer or are in a depth role with the club. The latter is the case in Gustafsson but he still posted decent offensive numbers as a draft-eligible and had some really good GF% and GFREL%.
Ideally, you would like to see more shots from him but he wasn’t being afforded chances to do so. He had 17 shots in 7 games at the U18 WJHC, which reinforces the thought that he was a victim of circumstance in the SHL. He was really strong in the dot at that tournament with a 70.55% winning percentage.
He averaged 11:12 of ice time with HV71 during the regular season.
Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
A couple of things stand out here.
He saw his production per 60 minutes increase as the season went on despite seeing a fairly similar ice time. He was held off the scoresheet in the two playoff games he played with the SHL club with an average ice time of 14:11.
With the exception of the final two players, he produced good GF% WOWY results with the players shown. He made the most of the ice time that was afforded to him while producing good GF% numbers.
As with any draft eligible player that has remained in the SHL for the duration of their season, it produces a high success rate with 54.8% of cohorts going onto NHL careers.
This is a running theme and continues with Gustafsson – taking European players who are in the top league of their respective country for their NHL draft season is generally a wise venture.
Last month, I wrote for The Athletic, about Gustafsson as a player that is getting undervalued in draft rankings and suggested that he might not be a first-round talent. After digging deeper into the data that is available to us and have changed my mind in thinking that he is a first round player in this draft class.
Gustafsson is a smart player who is effective in the defensive zone. That side of the game is what stands out when looking at him compared to his peers. He has a professional defensive game and makes sure that he is tidy in his own zone. He’s willing to grind it out along the boards to win battles in all three zones. The Tingsryd born centre is smart in his own zone and doesn’t overcommit to engage his opponent.
He understood his role with HV71 and made the most of it while posting good goal differentials. He generally made his teammates better with him than without and it was because of his defensive zone play.
His skating can be considered a weakness as he lacks two-step quickness and a high-end top speed but he gets around the ice perfectly fine. He uses his large frame and strong legs to protect the puck easily. It’s a side to his game that will improve as he matures, so it’s not something that should be considered a hindrance.
The debate that arises about Gustafsson is the offensive side of his game.
Some point to his skating as an issue while others suggest that his shot isn’t good enough to be effective. In all honesty, both issues are likely overstated. I’ve covered the skating above but his shot is fine as well. He doesn’t have a ripper of a shot but it can beat goalies and plays a well rounded enough offensive game that he doesn’t have to blow it by the goalie to sore.
He does, however, react to the play well and can play make quite well, so he is able to make things happen before his opponents can fully react to what has happened. Combine that with his willingness to take the puck to the net and those two concerns aren’t something that should be worried about. It does speak to a lack of high-end offensive upside overall. Which I think is a valid criticism about his game but overstated to think that he can’t produce at all.
He finished fifth in scoring among U19 players in the SHL – trailing only Rasmus Dahlin, Lucas Elvenes, Isac Lundstrom and Erik Brannstrom.
But Gustafsson has produced extremely well when playing against his peers throughout his development and has shown that he can play with high-end offensive players at those type of events. He just slides into the responsible player on that line and then makes efficient plays to put his linemates in great situations. Those offensive outbursts lead me to believe there is more to his offensive game and he should take that next step forward with HV71 next season.
Gustafsson may just end up being a really effective middle six centre that uses his defensive prowess to help keep the puck out of his own net. He can then slide into an offensive role if need be. There is very little risk in selecting Gustafsson but he could surprise and prove people wrong on the offensive side of the game. Or he just ends up as a good third line centre who helps chip in here and there, which is not a bad thing either.
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David Gustafsson is only 17 years old but has already played a full season in the SHL on HV71 – a team that won the SHL Championship last season and is on its way to the playoffs yet again. Gustafsson is physically mature and defensively reliable which is why he’s able to play in the SHL at such a young age but has shown a little more offensively as the season has progressed. He’s a natural center and already good on faceoffs at the SHL level but needs to continue working on his skating and offensive tools. Gustafsson was one of the final cuts from Sweden’s World Junior Championship team in December.
From Future Considerations:
A gutsy two-way forward, he is extremely strong on his skates and very difficult to knock off balance. Meaning he can protect the puck well as he muscles his way around the ice. Scouts says he was tough to assess when he was playing for HV71 in the Swedish men’s league because he was a bottom-six forward with a limited role. There, he recorded 12 points, including six goals, in 45 appearances. However, when he played with – and against – his own age group, he showed very well. His comfort level was obvious. He owns strong offensive sense to go with a well-rounded skillset. He passes the puck very well and he doesn’t force feeds into clogged lanes. He has a sense of when to be patient and when to hold onto pucks. Plus, he has the quickness to react suddenly and open up options for himself and his teammates. He shows a good nose for the net and an appetite for battling one-on-one along the boards. In fact, at times he gets a little rambunctious. He plays with a lot of confidence and doesn’t hesitate to play in the gritty areas of the rink. Good puck awareness and understands how to operate without the puck in his possession. On top of which, he has a model work ethic. He backchecks effectively and is very aware of his defensive responsibilities. His shot, though, leaves a little to be desired and needs a lot of improvement.