Photo Credit: Chicago Steel
Scouting Report written by Josh Tessler
Lukas Gustafsson is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospect, who hails from Alpharetta, Georgia. Alpharetta is a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Per the New England Hockey Journal, before settling down in the Atlanta metro area, Gustafsson was born and spent the first few years of childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana. Gustafsson’s father Marcus, a native of Knivsta, Sweden was playing in the ECHL at the time for the New Orleans Brass (the former affiliate of the San Jose Sharks). Marcus had played for the University of Maine and Division 1 hockey for Uppsala AIS before heading down to Louisiana. After moving to Atlanta, Marcus spent some time coaching in the Atlanta Fire system.
Lukas played youth hockey for the Atlanta Fire before moving up to Massachusetts to play prep school hockey for Cushing Academy. He played alongside a few 2021 and 2022 NHL Draft prospects at Cushing including Bryce Montgomery (2021), Jackson Dorrington (2022), Cameron Lund (2022) and Billy Norcross (2021). After his 2019-2020 season with Cushing, Gustafsson was selected by the Chicago Steel in the sixth round of 2020 USHL Entry Draft.
This season, Gustafsson split his time between Cushing and the Chicago Steel. He played in 14 regular season games for the Steel, in which he recorded one goal and three assists. Gustafsson also played in two playoff games in the Steel’s Clark Cup Finals run.
Next season, Gustafsson is set to return to the Chicago Steel, but for his 2022-2023 season, he will be heading back to Massachusetts to play for Boston College. He will be joining Matthew Argentina (2021), Norcross, Cutter Gauthier (2022) and Charlie Leddy (2022) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
D.O.B – December 16, 2002
Nationality – USA/Sweden
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –181 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Gustafsson’s Style Of Play
If you are looking for a versatile a defender, who can serve as a defensive forward, but who possesses the ability to create scoring chances in the offensive zone then Lukas Gustafsson is your man. Similar to my perspective on Halifax Mooseheads forward Robert Orr and Paul Zuk’s perspective USNTDP forward Dylan Duke, Gustafsson is a Swiss army knife. Wherever you need him to be, he will be there and deliver. I could go on and on about his versatility, but he reminds me of former Boston Red Sox fan favorite and now Texas Rangers hitter Brock Holt. Like Holt, Gustafsson will step in and play wherever you desire.
After conversing with Gustafsson, I learned that he played forward in his days with the Atlanta Fire, but when playing U14 hockey, he shifted over to defense.
Last season with the Steel, Gustafsson was deployed at right wing, left defense and right defense. Ultimately, it came down to the shift strategy of head coach Brock Sheahan.
In the offensive zone, Gustafsson will jumps to the perimeter when there are puck battles down low. But that isn’t the same on every shift. Sometimes, when puck battles are down low in the opposite corner, he won’t just go to the perimeter, he will go to the hashmarks in medium danger.
One of the attributes that I really enjoy when watching Gustafsson is his hunger for the puck. Given his experience as a forward, he’s got the forward like instincts even when he’s being deployed as a defenseman. He will darts into the zone, sees his opponents setting up in the slot, bursts in the slot to shoot off of quick feed from a teammate. Not every shift, but in a lot of his shifts, you will notice that he will go to medium and/or low danger to provide passing lanes for his teammates. When there are teammates battling along the half-wall, he will give his teammates options up the middle. He will collect a pass from the half-wall, cut through the slot and create lucrative scoring chances at net-front.
When stick-handling with the puck, he has excellent reachability. He can play the puck wide and acquire time/space for him to control the puck without fear of tight pressure. Gustafsson also has the ability to lure the goaltender from afar, which leads to the goaltender exposing gaps. With luring the goaltender over, he has freed up gaps on the goaltender’s blocker side and Gustafsson will exploit those gaps with backhand shots to throw the goaltender off-guard.
From an offensive passing perspective, while Gustafsson does enjoy going down low, don’t expect numerous dangerous passing attempts. Gustafsson prefers to catch the attack off-guard instead of being the play-maker down low. When it comes to his passing, he generally prefers making clean tape-to-tape feeds from the point to teammates along the half-wall instead of keying up dangerous passes. But, with that being said, he will deliver a few quality feeds from the point to teammates in the slot.
When you look at Gustafsson’s shot, you will notice that he isn’t always accurate and sometimes gets too much height on his shot. If he can further round out his shot, he will only improve his goal scoring abilities.
If Gustafsson doesn’t have control of the puck, he will put a decent of amount of pressure on the attack. He forechecks just like a forward. Hungry for possession and will utilize an active stick to attempt to trap puck carriers. If he is in a forward deployment and it appears that his teammates have lost a puck battle down low, he will fall back past the perimeter and move close to his defenders. It’s similar to in European football when you have midfielders fall back towards their defenders when there is a change in possession.
One of the biggest hurdles for Gustafsson is quick decision-making. It is a challenge for him in all three zones, so you can expect a little bit more color in the next two sections. There are times where he won’t a make quick decision when holding onto the puck at the point. After holding onto the puck for too long, that lures pressure to him and he’s forced to vacate the zone to secure possession of the puck.
When in the neutral zone, he will utilize puck manipulation strategies which allows him to bring defenders to him in transition and then he’ll throw the puck to the other side to bypass the attacker and create clean entries. He’s shown that he can be rather excellent at driving through traffic in the neutral zone and creating controlled zone entries. It’s all about puck movement and Gustafsson knows just how to take advantage of attackers. But, sometimes Gustafsson has to work a little bit harder with his puck manipulation to generate zone entries. For instance, when facing tight pressure from an attacker who was staying stride for stride with Gustafsson, he ended up bringing the puck back towards his blue-line. Then, on a dime, he will complete a well-timed hockey stop, pivots and that completely throws off the attacker. Thus, allowing Gustafsson to create deception through his skating and puck movement and carry the puck up the ice without fear of a turnover.
Gustafsson doesn’t always complete controlled zone to zone transitions, there are plenty of instances where he feathers diagonal cross-ice zone entry passes and seam passes to push the puck up the ice. In addition, when skating back for loose pucks and bringing an attacker with him, he will utilize saucer passes to get the puck over the attacker’s stick blade and onwards to the desired teammate.
When not controlling the puck but fighting for the puck, Gustafsson will use an active stick to steal the puck off the puck carrier’s rush attempt. He reached his stick out as far as he could while standing up-right and knocked the puck out once he got in range. Occasionally when Gustafsson is following the attack, he will skate forwards with the puck carrier along the boards, use crossovers to garner necessary acceleration and then flip to backwards skating near the defensive zone blue-line to trap the puck carrier and force a turnover.
If Gustafsson’s defensive partner is covering the puck carrier along the boards and the carrier’s teammate is skating parallel to offer a passing opportunity, Gustafsson will skate in-line and hang with the non puck carrier.
Gustafsson needs to work on open ice hitting in the neutral zone. He will try to go in for an open ice hit in the neutral zone and mistimed the pressure/the hit attempt. Sometimes, he will make contact and instantly fall as he struggles to control skate balance when going in for a check. Gustafsson will also get out of position at times, challenge an attacker along the boards and teammate doesn’t drop back to support his defensive partner. That has led to a few 2 on 1s.
In the defensive zone, Gustafsson will start putting pressure on the puck carrier way before the perimeter. Once in position, he deploys quality pressure along the boards at the half-wall and down low in the corners. He deploys an active stick and stays stride for stride with the puck carrier. He will push his arms and stick into the puck carrier to force him to hang at the boards behind the red line. Gustafsson uses his shoulder to lean forward and separate the attacker from the puck when the puck carrier is attempting to drive from the half-wall inwards to the net.
There are also moments, where he is lightning quick right off the draw. When there is a face-off at an offside face-off dot in the neutral zone, he might let the puck carrier into the defensive zone, but quickly deploys and active stick to cause a turnover and pushes the puck out of the zone.
At medium danger or at the perimeter, he will bend his knees and put his stick blade in front of him to try to shut down puck carriers from skating into the slot. That forces ill-advised shots.
While he does implement quality pressure and stays stride for stride in many situations, there are shifts where he is defending from slightly behind. In that case, he’ll wave his stick at the attacker’s chest to make the attacker believe that he has limited space. But, sometimes he’ll rely a little too much on an active stick for defensive pressure and lets the attack go around him. This past season, there were a few instances in which that happened. For example, Chaz Lucius managed to get around his active stick in a game against the USNTDP.
In general, his defensive positioning is quite sound. When the opposition has two attackers behind the net and has possession of the puck, Gustafsson and his defensive partner align and line up on both sides of the net at the red line to take a way a wrap around opportunity. He’ll cover his defensive partner, drop down for a loose puck along the half-wall if the partner is tied up higher up. When puck battles are along the boards on the other half-wall and defensive partner is engaged at the half-wall, he’ll position himself to the right of the goaltender and that allows him to grab loose pucks if the cycle tries to throw the puck down the boards. That also allows him to cover high danger areas if the attacker manages to hold onto possession of the puck and skates hard toward the net.
His quickness to defensive recoveries and quick decision-making are areas that need further development. He will shorten up his stride extension length in the defensive zone and look back a bit much at the forechecker, which slows him down and put him into tough situations when collecting the loose puck. When Gustafsson slows down, he puts himself into vulnerable situations where he could get blindsided with a check and loose pucks down low in a physical battle. There are also shifts, in which he hangs onto the puck for too long while identifying a teammate to pass to and that allows the attacker to catch up to Gustafsson.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Gustafsson’s skating. He deploys great lengthier crossovers in transition to garner the necessary speed to skate through the neutral zone with ease. His crossovers and edge work not only allow him to amplify his speed, but he also uses his edges to weave around traffic.
Gustafsson also deploys good pivots when skating up the ice in the defensive zone. If his teammates gives up possession of the puck, he will spot the turnover, quickly react, pivot and dart after the puck.
The Atlanta native also can deploy quality hockey stops on a dime. There are instances where he skates in the offensive zone with control of the puck, sees a defender looking to trap him, deploys a quality stop in order to complete a crisp cross ice pass.
While he does have the ability to deploy quality crossovers, edges and hockey stops, there are situations in which his edges hurt his mobility and balance. Sometimes when transitioning from skating backwards to forwards, he will try to implement outside edges and lose balance. There are also shifts in which he is looking to defend two attackers in the defensive zone and accidentally deploys one inside edge and one outside edge. By doing so, it slows him down and diminishes his mobility. That allows the attack to skate by him with ease.
But, he does have an excellent stride. His ankle flexion is aligned with the toe of his skate and can generate solid acceleration. When in transition, he will combine his stride with the lengthier crossovers that I mentioned earlier to help drive him forward.
Second Pairing Defenseman (NHL). But, he can step in and be deployed as a defensive forward.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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