GREENBURGH — The question posed to Erik Gustafsson was simple: Does he believe he has found a home?
His response was unequivocal.
“I love it here,” Gustafsson said after practice Friday at the MSG Training Facility. “My family loves it here, my kids, too . . . Ever since we came over here, we [have] loved everything.”
The feeling is mutual.
Entering this weekend’s back-to-back at Nashville on Saturday afternoon and home Sunday night against the NHL-worst Sharks, the Rangers have the most wins in the NHL (16), are tied with Boston and Los Angeles for the fewest losses (four) and are tied with Boston for the second-most points in the NHL (33).
Gustafsson has played a not-insignificant role in the early success. He has three goals and 12 assists in an average of 18:51 of ice time per game.
Of his 15 points — which ranks fifth-most on the team — nine have come at even strength and six on the power play, where he is getting 2:10 per game.
Not bad for a guy who signed a one-year, $825,000 contract on the first day of free agency.
Gustafsson had played for Chicago, Calgary, Philadelphia, Montreal, Washington and Toronto in the course of his eight-year career.
“I’ve been signing one-year [contracts] the last three, four years, so obviously I wanted more,” he said when asked if he thought he was affected by the flat cap last summer. “But I [knew] how it is and obviously cap space and all that stuff going on.”
It did help that Peter Laviolette vouched for the 31-year-old, who played for much of last season in Washington before being sent to Toronto at the trade deadline.
During a recent post-practice interview session, Laviolette said his familiarity with Gustafsson made the defenseman someone he and general manager Chris Drury put high on their list going into free agency.
“He’s played well since he’s been here,” Laviolette said. “His training camp was really good. The start of the season was really strong for him. It seems no matter who he plays with, they can drive play in the right direction. He’s done a really good job . . . It doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to step in and play that way. He did it for me last year [in Washington] and he’s doing the same exact thing right now. He’s playing really well.”
Especially in the 10 games he skated with Ryan Lindgren on the top defense pair while Adam Fox recuperated from a lower-body injury.
In that stretch, Gustafsson had a goal and 10 assists and averaged 20:24 of ice time. Of his 11 points, six came at even strength and five on the power play.
Even more impressive? The lefthanded-shooting Gustafsson was playing on the right side during that stretch.
“Obviously I don’t mind it,” he said. “I [hadn’t] played [on the right side] in a while, but it’s kind of like when you’ve played it before, you know [what to expect].”