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Gustafsson won't be rushed to NHL by Jets

Forward prospect will remain in Swedish league to work on skating, puck possession

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Even before the Winnipeg Jets selected David Gustafsson in the second round (No. 60) of the 2018 NHL Draft, they knew exactly how Gustafsson would be spending his summer.

The 18-year-old center prides himself on being a smart, two-way player that can compete hard at both ends of the ice, but knows it takes more to play in the NHL.

"I have to improve my game a lot if I want to play [in the NHL]," Gustafsson said. "First of all, I have to improve my skating, and I think I have a good program for that in Sweden. But every single thing, about puck possession, about keeping the puck, about protecting the puck, I have to improve all that if I want to play here."

The Jets told Gustafsson what they want, and he said he'll be working on that over the summer and throughout next season with HK71 Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League, where Gustafsson is under contract for the next two seasons.

"The skating and everything, I already knew that," Gustafsson said. "But the coaches talked [to me] about puck possession and playing with the puck, that will be a major thing for me to work on. I know that it's a hard game and nothing just comes to you. You have to work on it."

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Gustafsson's improved skating will come with time.

"You look at a player like [forward] Adam Lowry. When we drafted him, he's a guy who needed to work on his skating," Cheveldayoff said at the draft. "We've seen development over the years from players."

Cheveldayoff was happy to get Gustafsson where he did.

"He was someone who we had rated at a real good spot for us," Cheveldayoff said. "He's a strong, two-way centerman. He's got exceptional hockey sense, really good on the face-offs and already playing over [in Europe] making a contribution. He's someone we project to be a solid pro player. For young players to get a foothold that early in men's leagues over in Europe, they have to have some special qualities, and he does have some of those."

Last season with HK71, Gustafsson had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 45 games as a 17-year-old. Jets coordinator of player development Jimmy Roy said that experience can be beneficial for a young prospect.

"I think kids that come in and have played at the pro level, on a bigger picture, it helps them much more, for sure it does," Roy said. "If you've played pro hockey, and you understand the routine, and you've played against men, and you know what coaches expect from you it's different than college and junior. I think overall it gives them an advantage, but maybe not for a camp like this where you're getting to know them."

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