Erik Gustafsson glad for his opportunity to make the Islanders' roster
Erik Gustafsson had a 60-point season for Chicago in 2018-19 but the Islanders are the defenseman’s fourth NHL stop since then, with no guarantee he’ll be around when the season starts as he came to training camp on a professional tryout offer.
But the puck-mover has no doubts he can regain his past form. Even getting close would benefit both player and the Islanders as they seek to deepen their defense.
"Very confident," Gustafsson said on Wednesday after his group’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "I know it’s been up and down the last two years, but I think I’m still that D-man. That’s why I came here, even on a PTO. I think if I can make the team here, I see that this team is going to help me come back to that point."
Gustafsson split last season between the Flyers and Canadiens, who did not bring him back after he compiled a goal and two assists in 16 playoff games. The Islanders, though, were looking for left-shooting defense depth after Nick Leddy was traded to the Red Wings to clear salary-cap space.
The Islanders also brought in 44-year-old Zdeno Chara, the future Hall of Famer, on a one-year deal, and is expected to join the Islanders’ top six defensemen along with Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene.
Gustafsson is also facing camp competition from fellow lefties Thomas Hickey, Sebastian Aho and, perhaps, top prospect Robin Salo.
"I’m happy to be here," Gustafsson said. "It’s a great organization and that’s why I wanted to come here. I know it’s a PTO but I have to show that I belong here and I can fit into this team. When I signed the PTO, I felt like it was the right fit for me."
The 29-year-old Gustafsson, who has 29 goals and 102 assists in 250 NHL games, had two assists in a team-high 23:30 when the Islanders opened their six-game preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
They next face the Devils on Saturday afternoon in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
"I feel like I started a little slow in practicing," Gustafsson said. "But, after the game, I felt pretty good. I felt confidence in how we are supposed to play here."
Notes & quotes: Semyon Varlamov (soreness) has yet to practice but Barry Trotz, terming the injury "nagging" rather than a major issue, is not yet ruling out the goalie’s availability for the season opener on Oct. 14 at Carolina. "I think we’ve still got a few more days to see where he’s at," Trotz said. "Say he’s not ready for opening night, I’m not very concerned because I know he’ll be ready right around the corner. And we’ve got Ilya [Sorokin]." . . . Matt Martin (ankle) skated with the group of younger prospects, though he has yet to participate in a full practice. "He’s making strides and he’s continuing his rehab," Trotz said.