Gustafsson, 29, actually ranked 44th among our list of the top 50 unrestricted free agents this offseason, but even then we projected a one-year, low-money deal for the enigmatic defenseman. It’s not often you can get a blue-liner who scored 60 points in 2018-19 on a PTO, but that’s exactly how poorly the league thinks of Gustafsson’s defensive contributions. He’s a mess in his own end but still brings enough offensive upside and puck-moving ability to be an intriguing add for a team like the Islanders.
Perhaps, if the team can shelter him in its outstanding defensive structure, he could return to the player who scored 17 goals and 60 points for the Blackhawks just a few years ago. In 250 NHL games overall, Gustafsson has registered 131 points. He even caught on as a regular with the Montreal Canadiens during their recent Stanley Cup Final run, suiting up 16 times in the postseason.
A PTO is notably not a full contract, but it’s hard to imagine Gustafsson not catching on somewhere by the time the season begins. That could be in New York with the Islanders, or this could simply be a showcase for him to prove he can still hack it at that level in order to sign elsewhere. Either way, it is a great opportunity for the player, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the last few spots on the Islanders’ back end. The team currently has just six defensemen signed to one-way contracts, and one of those is Thomas Hickey, who will likely be sent to the minor leagues once again. Noah Dobson will be in the NHL on his entry-level deal, but other than that there isn’t a long line of young players pushing for roster spots.