Monday, October 18, 2010

Anton Gustafsson Hangs Up His Skates

photo by Getty Images

In a shocking move, it was announced today that Anton Gustafsson has quit the South Carolina Stingrays and is headed home to Sweden, per Mike Vogel.  Instead of trying to prove his worth (being the Capitals' first first-round draft pick at 21st overall, John Carlson was also selected in the first round at 27th) to the Capitals organization in the ECHL, he has informed the team that he is "not enjoying hockey."  The Capitals have made moves to immediately suspend Gustafsson's contract.

Gustafsson, the son of Capitals great Bengt Gustafsson, was ranked by scouts as 5th among Europeans in the 2008 Entry Draft, but ended up going at 21st to the Capitals, who presumably decided to keep the organization in the family.  Reading the scouting report, now having seen him go through three NHL camps, is interesting:
"Anton is a highly skilled player with strong puckhandling skills and playmaking ability. He is an effective passer through traffic who also has a good selection of shots. He's a tall, strong and talented two-way center with good vision and a fine understanding of the game. He plays a mature game even when playing against opponents who were two or three years older."
One scouting report even stated that he could end up replacing Michael Nylander as the second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom.

But in camps with the Capitals, he never seemed to show those abilities.  Though the talent level was there, the motivation was not.  He had great success with his junior club in Sweden (the Frolunda Indians' U-20 team), registering nearly a point per game in 2007-08.  After being drafted in 2008, he attended Capitals training camp, but was extremely limited due to a back injury.  

Regardless, Gustafsson was signed by the Capitals in May 2009 to a three-year entry-level contract.

In 2009 during development camp, he suffered a concussion (his second of the year) after falling and going headfirst into a goalpost.  In training camp, he still was battling injuries, but was sent to Hershey and played in a handful of preseason games before returning to Sweden once again for the 2009-10 season.  

He returned just before Hershey headed to the Calder Cup playoffs, and played his first game in April, recording two assists in his professional debut and earning the game's third star in the win over Norfolk.  While he was on the roster for the Calder Cup playoffs, that April game was the first, and last, game he played with Hershey.

2010's training camp was his chance.  He was healthy and in his third camp.  It was one of his last shots at cracking the roster in Washington, or at the very least, Hershey.  But he still didn't seem to be all-there.  After Coach Boudreau had pointed him out during development camp as being a player who had improved from the previous year, Gustafsson was nearly invisible in training camp.  Subsequently, on September 22, he was sent down to Hershey.

There, he appeared in one preseason game for the Chocolate and White, notching one assist on a goal by Nikita Kashirsky.  On October 3, it was announced that Gustafsson was sent down to South Carolina.  He played in their opener, a 3-2 OT loss to the Greenville Road Warriors, but failed to record a single point and went -1 for the night.  He also had zero shots on net.

Who knows what is going through Gustafsson's head right now, but perhaps it is a good idea for him to step back and re-evaluate himself and what he expects out of himself.  If he decides to come back at some point, he's able to - the Caps are suspending his contract, not voiding it.  With his attitude lacking at training camps, he needs to make a decision about whether or not hockey is something he really wants to do.


Anonymous said...

I will probably get lashed for this opinion, but good on him for getting out rather than taking up roster and cap space if his heart wasn't in it. Who knows why or even cares...injuries? pressure to play a sport from family? Regardless of the reasons, there are tons of other guys out there who would kill for a roster spot...let him go.

Erika said...

Oh yeah, I'm absolutely not blaming him. I'm just curious as to what's going on in his head. Being a first-round draft pick though, fans are going to care. i.e. Jordan Eberle was selected a couple picks AFTER Gustafsson. But I understand your point.