If you’re looking for the biggest issue with the Minnesota Wild in the near future, look no further than goaltending. After a carousel of netminders occupied the Wild’s crease last season, the team is trying to find stability for years down the road. While Darcy Kuemper showed his own flashes of greatness at the end of last season, Johan Gustafsson is quietly waiting in the wings for his opportunity to prove himself.
Gustafsson has never been heralded as a top-notch prospect in his career. The former 6th round pick in 2010 has flown under the radar since being drafted and put up respectable numbers in the process. After posting a 1.70 GAA and .932 save percentage in his final season in the Swedish Elite League, Gustafsson was thrown into action on a less than impressive Iowa Wild squad that struggled mightily after losing most of it’s most talented players to the big club in Minnesota. Gustafsson’s 2.98 GAA and .903 save percentage last season were average at best as he started most of the games after Kuemper was called up.
At 6’2, Gustafsson doesn’t have the size of some of today’s mammoth NHL goaltenders, but he makes up for it with an uncanny ability to read the play in front of him. This allows him to make up for a lack of athleticism and little details that he is still currently working on. He gets by more on anticipation than anything else. This clip from the WJC tournament in 2012 shows his knack for knowing where danger lurks at all times on the ice. (On an unrelated note, Swedish hockey announcers are awesome.)
With the net expected to be full with the likes of Kuemper, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom this year, it’s doubtful that Gustafsson plays a significant role with the Minnesota Wild in the upcoming season. He’s better suited developing his game with a better Iowa Wild squad in front of him and being an every day goalie as opposed to sitting on the bench. Two or three years down the road, the door might open up for Gustafsson to get his shot in the NHL. It’s clear that the organization is higher on Kuemper at the moment, but reliable backups in the NHL are still important, as was obvious for the Wild last season.