It was slightly over a year ago that Jonas Gustavsson, the proclaimed ‘Monster’, signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs to become their next franchise goaltender. The Leafs outmatched the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks to land the coveted goaltender, who was coming off a stellar season in Sweden after posting a 1.08 GAA, .961 SV% and 5 shutouts in only 13 games en route to winning the Swedish Elite League Championship. The 6-foot-3, 192 pound goalie was coming to a market that would place high expectations on his shoulders, which of course was expected when signing with the team.
However, the pressure and unforeseen off-ice distractions caused Gustavsson’s first season in the NHL to be filled with many ups-and-downs. Prior to signing with the Leafs, Gustavsson had to deal with the loss of his mother in May 2009, which caused him to miss the majority of the World Hockey Championships. Upon arriving in Toronto, Gustavsson had to acclimate with his new environment and cope with the challenges of learning a new language. With Farjestad teammate Rickard Wallin coming along for the ride, Gustavsson had someone to talk to during difficult times.
When training camp began, the ‘Monster’ had adapted to Toronto over the summer and was prepared to get back to work. Fans of the team were eager to see the prized goaltender strut his skills on a big stage, but an apparent heart ablation during the off-ice portion of training camp forced Jonas to sit out for several weeks for rehabilitation. He eventually returned and started to regain form, but experienced another heart condition during a December 2nd game against the Montreal Canadiens. Gustavsson underwent a second heart ablation is less than three months, which kept him out for an extended period of time but corrected an abnormal heart beat.
Things turned around and began to look promising when Gustavsson was invited to represent Team Sweden as the backup goalie to Henrik Lundqvist at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. He appeared in only one game at the Olympics, but it provided him with an invaluable experience to be in the Olympic atmosphere and play with world-class players. The real benefit that came out of his Olympic participation was seen when he returned back to Toronto, where he posted a 7-2-1 record to collect 16 wins on the season. Having a strong finish to a rocky season earned Gustavsson a two-year contract extension worth $2.7 million.
The tandem of Jonas Gustavsson and mentor Jean-Sebastien Giguere has draw comparisons to the days of Bryzgalov/Giguere and Hiller/Giguere in Anaheim. The interesting debate surrounding Gustavsson is whether has the potential to be a better goalie than both Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller. If he manages to avoid injuries and remain poised between the pipes, how many wins can he earn next season? At 25 years of age, how much room for improvement does he have? Feel free to chime in about Gustavsson and predict how many wins he will get next season in the comment section.
Based on my observations of him as a player and his performance as a rookie last season, I can see him earning 22-25 wins if he splits playing time with Giguere. What do you think?