If the Flyers’ plan to replace retiring defenseman Matt Niskanen is “by committee,’’ they welcomed in a new member on Monday.
General manager Chuck Fletcher announced the Flyers have signed free-agent backliner Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $3-million contract.
The 28-year-old Gustafsson, who last played for the Calgary Flames, brings a veteran presence to a Flyers defense which has only two players – Justin Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere – over the age of 26.
“Erik is a mobile and skilled puck-moving defenseman who has produced well offensively both at even-strength and on the power play,” said Fletcher. “We believe Erik will give us valuable minutes and be a nice addition to our group of young defensemen.”
Gustafsson appeared in a total of 62 games last season for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Flames.
He posted six goals and 20 assists for 26 points in 59 games for the Blackhawks before joining Calgary at the trade deadline, where he went on to pick up three assists in seven regular-season games and four assists in 10 Stanley Cup playoff games.
One aspect of Niskanen’s game Gustafsson can help replace is the power play. At the time of his trade to Calgary, Gustafsson was leading all Blackhawks defensemen in power-play ice time at an average of 2:49 per game, and ranked third overall on the roster at 20:53 of ice time per game.
During this past season’s playoffs, Gustafsson replaced All-Star Mark Giordano on the Flames’ power-play unit, which performed well throughout the postseason.
Gustafsson has played parts of four seasons in the NHL, all of which were with Chicago prior to the trade with Calgary.
He signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent in 2015 and split the 2015-16 season between Chicago and the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs.
Gustafsson split time with the Icehogs and Blackhawks between 2015-18. In 2018-19, his first full NHL season, Gustafsson ranked sixth in scoring among all NHL defensemen with 17 goals and 43 assists for 60 points.
A 6-foot-0, 197-pound native of Nynashamn, Sweden, Gustafsson helped his country win a gold medal at the 2018 IIHF World Championships. He was originally drafted by Edmonton in the fourth round (93rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Late in the 2018-19 season, Gustafsson was briefly benched for poor play while competing for Chicago. But he came back strong upon his return.
Gustafsson told the Chicago Sun-Times he might have been thinking too much and not playing aggressively enough. When he does initiate the action, he apparently appears to be more sure of himself and plays with a bit more swagger.
“If I think about it too much on the ice, I think I’m going to play worse,” Gustafsson said at the time. “It’s just feeling that I’ve got to be aggressive when they have the puck in our own zone and move my feet, and it’s just a confidence thing, too.”