Ottawa Senators: Is Next Season Make or Break for Filip Gustavsson

LAVAL, QC, CANADA - JANUARY 2: Filip Gustavsson #30 of the Belleville Senators about to make a blocker save against the Laval Rocket during warm-up at Place Bell on January 2, 2019 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC, CANADA - JANUARY 2: Filip Gustavsson #30 of the Belleville Senators about to make a blocker save against the Laval Rocket during warm-up at Place Bell on January 2, 2019 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /

After being a central piece coming over from Pittsburgh in the Derek Brassard deal, Gustavsson has been disappointing

Acquired in a blockbuster trade during February of 2018, Filip Gustavsson was viewed as one of the best goaltending prospects in the NHL, hopes were high for the talented Swede.

In 2018, despite being just 19-years-old during the season, Gustavsson was one of the better goalies in all of Sweden, registering a 0.918 SV% and a 2.07 GAA during his time in Lulea of the SHL (Swedish Hockey League). On top of that Gustavsson was on full display during the World Junior Championships where he was named goaltender of the tournament while leading Sweden to the Silver Medal. After having a stellar season, there’s no questioning the Senators and many other team’s infatuation with him.

Following his dream season in 2018, Gustavsson has taken a significant step backwards and has struggled to find any semblance of the player he was when Ottawa acquired him. While Gustavsson had a small 7 game stint at the end of the 2018 season for Belleville, he would start his official rookie season in North America the following year. With hopes so high coming into Belleville, things didn’t exactly go as planned. The highly-regarded prospect was abysmal in his rookie season, a 0.887 SV% and a 3.38 GAA weren’t going to inspire fans or the organization. Even with his tumultuous debut season in North America over with, many thought it was just a product of the adjustment to the North American game and that Gustavsson would be fine the following season.

2019-2020 Recap

With Belleville’s crease getting more crowded with the signing of Joey Daccord, Gustavsson was going to have a smaller margin for error than the year prior. Marcus Hogberg was the incumbent starter for the AHL squad, while Gustavsson was the backup with Daccord getting games in the ECHL with Brampton.

Despite being firmly in Belleville in November, if Gustavsson didn’t show improvement Troy Mann wouldn’t have any qualms about cutting his minutes.

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The talented goalie didn’t do himself any favours, allowing 3+ goals in each of his first 6 starts. After his abysmal start to his “rebound” season, it wouldn’t get easier as Joey Daccord would be brought up near the end of the month.

After Anders Nilsson went down for the season with a concussion near Christmas, Daccord and Gustavsson would become the duo for the remainder of the season in Belleville.

Despite boasting a solid record at seasons end (15-6-4), he was on the highest-scoring team in the AHL, so as is constant for most evaluators, W/L isn’t a way to evaluate a goaltender. Once again Gustavsson’s stats were worrying, a 0.889 SV% and a 3.23 GAA, isn’t the numbers you want to see from one of your top goalie prospects.

Losing starts to the impressive performances of Joey Daccord, it was clear Gustavsson had lost favour with the coach and it was clear he was in the doghouse with these comments from Mann at years end:

Not exactly the endorsement you would like to see from your head coach, but nobody can deny Mann’s had substance.

Make or Break 2021?

While last season was crucial, Gustavsson has a chance to prove to the organization that he can still blossom into the goalie the Senators envisioned him to be.

Ottawa has a ton of depth at goalie in their prospect pool and will be adding another netminder to the fray for the upcoming season in QMJHL Goalie of the Year Kevin Mandolese. With the newly turned professional starting next season in the ECHL, Gustavsson will still have his spot in Belleville but once again as the backup.

Already sitting behind two young goalies with Hogberg presumably in the NHL and Daccord as the starter in Belleville, Gustavsson will have to show significant improvement to move up the ranks. Not to mention, Ottawa has 2019 2nd round pick Mads Søgaard waiting in the WHL, certain to make the move to professional hockey in 2021-22.

Gustavsson can’t afford another slip-up, he has two goalies nipping at his heels and another duo ahead of him on the depth chart with all being 25 years or younger. A third consecutive poor season in Belleville could be enough to push Gustavsson out of favour in Ottawa.