231013 NYR GUS

Erik Gustafsson is settling in just fine on the blueline.

The Rangers’ newest addition to the defensive core has made a smooth transition thus far, making a solid first impression during the team’s preseason slate. Gustafsson showcased his polished and efficient skating, and his versatility as he can be situationally deployed on both the power play and penalty kill, all while flexing his offensive instincts as he produced three points (1G, 2A) through four contests. 

“He’s a skater, a puck-mover, he’s constantly looking to jump and create,” Laviolette said. “He’s looked real comfortable.”

It’s no surprise that Gustafsson has appeared comfortable under Laviolette’s system since he spent the bulk of last season in Washington, where he played 61 games prior to being traded to Toronto just ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. Under Laviolette’s system – which encourages defensemen to aptly join the rush and contribute offensively – Gustafsson benefitted, as he amassed the second-highest point production of his career with 38 (7G, 31A).

“For me, it’s a little advantage,” Gustafsson said of his familiarity with Laviolette. “I remember last year when I came into Washington, I was nervous with a new system. Coming in this year, I feel more confident. I think it shows in my game out there, too. I can focus on the practice more. I feel confident and I think it’s helped that I played with him last year.”

During training camp and the Rangers’ six preseason contests, Laviolette mixed and matched his defensive pairings, but did frequently pair Gustafsson with Braden Schneider, which unfolded as the duo to play alongside one another in the Rangers’ 5-1 season opener over the Buffalo Sabres.

Gustafsson logged 15:33 in his official Rangers debut and recorded a plus-two rating with one hit.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Schneider said. “The way he skates and moves the puck is top notch. Playing with him is very easy. Our games complement each other nicely. Obviously, I’m a bit more defensive and try breaking up pucks and it makes my job easy when I can go D-to-D and know he’s going to be breaking out like nothing. He’s fun to play with and I’m glad he’s here.”

And while there’s a nine-year age gap between Gustaffson and Schneider, the pair have clicked right away. The duo can often be found staying on the ice following the completion of practices to work on different scenarios and conversing at length to provide crucial insight with one another. 

“He’s always talking,” Schneider said. “I’ve had tons of questions with the systems and the coaching change that we’ve had, since he’s played with [Laviolette]. He’s been helping me this whole camp. He’s the new guy, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot more.”

After getting his wife and three daughters settled in and becoming more familiar with his new teammates, Gustafsson has fully embraced this opportunity with the Rangers and the impact he hopes to create.

“For myself, I think all I can do is just go out there and do my best to help the team win,” Gustafsson said. “If that’s in practice or whenever, I am just trying to get better each and every day and help the guys. Just trying to get better every day.”