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Leafs land Swedish goaltender Gustavsson

by Dan Rosen
The Toronto Maple Leafs will have some interesting competition in goal, and it will come in the form of a "Monster"-sized Swedish netminder

The Leafs announced Tuesday that Jonas Gustavsson has, who is 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, signed a one-year contract that reportedly is worth $810,000 with a $90,000 signing bonus. He will likely start the season as the backup to Vesa Toskala.

"It is still our plan that Vesa will be the starter here, but as I've said before, there are two athletes that audition every night, pitchers and goaltenders," Leafs General Manager and President Brian Burke said. "How the actual split of ice time works out will be up to the goaltenders and the coaching staff, but in my mind to be able to acquire a prospect of this value without expending a draft pick is a major acquisition for us."

Gustavsson, 24, earned the nickname "Monster" from Per-Erik Johnsson, his coach in the Swedish Elite League, because of both his size and obviously ability to stop the puck. He reportedly had four teams after him because this past season he was considered arguably the best goalie in the world not playing in North America.

Gustavsson led Farjestads to the Swedish Elite League championship by allowing just 14 goals in 13 playoff games for a 1.03 goals-against average and .961 save percentage. He broke the SEL's shutout streak record by going more than 240 minutes without surrendering a goal in the playoffs.

Henrik Lundqvist, now an All-Star with the New York Rangers, previously held the SEL playoff record with more than 172 minutes of perfect goaltending in 2005. Gustavsson finished the playoffs with five shutouts.

In 42 regular-season games, Gustavsson posted four shutouts and led the League with a 1.96 GAA and .932 save percentage in 42 games. It was the first time since 2006 that a goalie in the league posted a GAA under 2.00.

"You look at his playoff statistics, they're mind-boggling," Burke said. "It's almost like trying to read fine print without reading glasses. You look at them and you're like, that can't be right. They're staggering."

Following the season, Gustavsson played for Team Sweden at the 2009 IIHF World Championships and helped the Swedes win bronze by posting a 3-2-0 record with a 2.83 GAA and a .914 save percentage. 

"Playing against Team USA he made a save with the shaft of his stick," Burke recalled. "It hit the shaft of his stick. I said, 'Well, that was a lucky save.' He said, 'I practice that all the time.' Totally deadpanned. I don't know if he was pulling my leg or not."

What's remarkable is that according to Risto Pakarinen, an correspondent in Sweden, Gustavsson was late arriving to the Worlds because his mother was lying in a hospital bed. He still played and was able to lead the Swedes to a medal.

His mother has since passed away.

"He can do technically sound things, get in position, lots of pucks will hit him and when he needs to he can make the athletic saves as well," Burke said. "He's got kind of a frenetic style. In between whistles he skates around all the time and drives you nuts, but he's calm to talk to and he's very confident."

Burke first met Gustavsson at the World Championship in Switzerland and twice flew to his home near Stockholm to recruit him. Burke was in Sweden on July 1, the first day teams could sign free agents.

Although Burke said he left Sweden this past Saturday not knowing which way Gustavsson was leaning, the goalie called Burke on Sunday and said he wanted to come to Toronto. It took two more days to iron out a contract and for Farjestads to release Gustavsson from his contract before the Leafs could make it official.

Burke said it wasn't until around noon Tuesday that the paperwork was filed. Due to his age, Gustavsson had to sign only a one-year contract.

"I don't know if we have ever worked this hard to get one player, certainly not in my life," Burke said. "We're very excited about that."

Goran Stubb of NHL Central Scouting called Gustavsson a "late bloomer." Stubb said Gustavsson was not ranked among the draft-eligible European goalies entering the 2003 Entry Draft -- and as a result he went undrafted.

He is obviously very tall, but skinny and according to sources that have seen him play multiple times, he moves well laterally and sees the game.

"Jonas is a tall, big goaltender," Stubb told in an e-mail. "He covers the net very well. He's a modern goaltender with an aggressive style of playing. He is mentally strong and is in excellent physical shape."

Remarkably, Gustavsson's stats as a 24-year-old in the Swedish Elite League compare favorably to Lundqvist's stats when he was a 23-year-old goalie for Frolunda in 2004-05, his final season in his home country.

Lundqvist also led his team to the SEL championship with six shutouts and a 1.05 GAA in the 2005 playoffs. He posted a 1.79 GAA and six shutouts during the '04-05 regular season.

But Burke doesn't believe Gustavsson resembles Lundqvist at all.

"If you look at Lundqvist, when he does the splits his skates will hit the post, that's how deep he is in the paint," Burke said. "This kid comes out to the top of the paint and challenges like we want him to. I don't see their styles as similar at all -- but if he can stop the puck at the NHL level like Lundqvist, that's good for us."

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