Photo Credit: Brian Liesse / Seattle Thunderbirds
Scouting Report written by Matthew Somma
Jordan Gustafson is a player that has received a fair amount of hype this season, particularly in recent months. He’s playing for a great Seattle team in the WHL and is playing in all situations as an 18-year-old. Gustafson’s shifty skating is typical of most smaller forwards, but what makes him stand out is his physicality and strength on the puck. Gustafson is able to score at will from medium to high danger areas and can be a threat on a team’s power play if he makes it to the NHL.
When we conducted our meetings for the Winter Rankings, Gustafson was left off of the list. There were a handful of traits that I liked, such as the traits mentioned above, but I had concerns about Gustafson’s game that made me feel comfortable leaving him outside of the top 64 ranking. Since those rankings, I’ve come around on Gustafson a bit. I’m still not one hundred percent convinced of his odds at NHL success, but there’s more to like than I initially believed. In this profile, I’ll be looking at what makes Gustafson effective and why he could feature in our next rankings at Smaht Scouting.
D.O.B – January 20, 2004
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –179 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left
Gustafson’s Style of Play
The most common standout trait in every game I’ve watched this year has been Gustafson’s shifty and elusive skating. He is able to dart in and out of defensive coverage and create space for himself to operate in the offensive zone. Gustafson is able to make a quick cut across and can skate through three or four defenders at a time, seemingly taking the puck from a potential turnover situation to an extended shift in the offensive zone. Here’s an example of how Gustafson can avoid pressure in the offensive zone.
As for Gustafson’s speed, it’s average at best for a forward his size. I do think that his speed is fine at the WHL level, and there has been improvement over the course of the season, but he’ll need to add at least two steps over the course of his development. Gustafson can hunch a bit and sticks out a little too much when he’s skating forward. The first few pushes that Gustafson gets while he’s getting up to speed are great, but Gustafson tends to glide and can lose his speed while in transition. The main concern that I have about Gustafson’s skating is that he can glide and skate through WHL defenses just fine, but as the level of competition increases, his skating mechanics will prove to be deficient. His turns are slow, he can’t react quickly and there’s not a lot of power in his stride overall.
One of Gustafson’s best offensive tools is his stickhandling. He’s the type of player that utilizes a handful of dekes to create space and make the most out of a net drive or zone entry. Gustafson can stickhandle to get himself out of a bind along the boards as well. A player’s stickhandling doesn’t always make a player elite, but when paired with Gustafson’s skating, it makes him a weapon in the offensive zone. He’ll stickhandle and dart through a defense, taking the puck to the net and setting up a long shift in the offensive zone.
Gustafson’s shot is one of his stronger assets as well. He possesses a quick release with near perfect accuracy, making him one of the better goal scorers out of draft eligible skaters in the WHL this year. As I mentioned at the beginning his shot is dangerous in medium to high danger areas. This means that he can be a lethal scorer from the top of the circles on down, capable of threading shots through traffic and utilizing screens to thread shots through.
Gustafson takes advantage of the screen and places a shot right between the two players and right above the goalie. Just a little example of Gustafson’s shot being elite.
How about this one? Going through the five hole on a defending player and then going top shelf on the goaltender? Beautiful.
Gustafson’s hockey sense is on full display when he’s seeking a shooting opportunity. He’ll hold onto the puck and position himself and his stick in the exact position it needs to be in order to take the best possible shooting option. It’s the one time where I’m convinced that he can see the ice well. Other times, it’s not as obvious. Gustafson can skate the puck into a corner a lot of the time and turn it over when he has run out of room. In terms of vision with the puck on his stick, he tends to get tunnel vision and is limited to simple passes because he isn’t quite able to notice what’s on the periphery. With this in mind, it’s hard to say that Gustafson’s hockey sense is very good. It might be average given how he sees the ice as a shooter, but I wouldn’t argue that it’s much more than that.
I appreciate that Gustafson has the trust of his coaches, particularly in the defensive zone. He’s a tenacious player and makes a lot of smart plays in the defensive zone. Gustafson pressures the puck and forces players to make rushed decisions and bad passes, which results in a change of possession. His active stick and physicality give opponents hell when they’re trying to get set up. Gustafson has seen time on the penalty kill this season, where he’s able to do the same thing. He’ll frustrate opponents and push to get the puck out of the zone. I see the same mentality when Gustafson is on the forecheck, too. He’s relentless and this is where his physicality shines. Gustafson is one of the better forecheckers that I’ve watched this season, largely due to his relentless pursuit of the puck and physicality.
These are the positive traits that I’ve noticed about Gustafson this season. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that concern me about his odds of making the NHL. First and foremost, I’m constantly looking for Gustafson to do more in the offensive zone. He tends to stand around and wait for the play to come to him when the puck is with his teammates. Occasionally, that’ll lead to him being out of position. He can be a passenger in the offensive zone, but that switch will flip when he’s moving to the forecheck. If Gustafson can find a way to keep that switch on consistently, he’ll be a force in the offensive zone. Right now, he’s a player that can do a little with the puck but one that is only a real threat when he’s shooting. I don’t see Gustafson seeking out offense often. Instead, he’ll wait for the play to come to him. He relies on the skill of his teammates to set him up rather than taking over the shift in the offensive zone. That’s not necessarily a death sentence for NHL success, but it does mean that his effectiveness in the NHL will be severely limited if he isn’t able to fix things.
Gustafson seems to be fairly one-dimensional in the offensive zone when I’ve watched him this season. He is limited to simple passes in the offensive zone, usually moving the puck back to the point or outside to a wing. Rarely do I see Gustafson thread any passes through traffic, nor do I see him dazzle with his vision with the puck on his stick. Simply put, he’s a player that can move the puck to an easy option but I haven’t seen more from him as a playmaker. A lot of his assists that I’ve seen this year have been off of faceoff wins or passes back to the point that resulted in goals. He has plenty of primary assists, but none of them are particularly eye opening. Just simple passes that his teammates are able to finish on. Occasionally, he’ll make a nice play, such as this give and go.
The last concern that I have about Gustafson’s game is his reaction time. Gustafson’s decision making can be slow and he can’t react to the play in time, leading to him lagging behind or getting caught out of position. This is on display when Gustafson is carrying the puck in transition. He’ll try to assess his options but will skate himself into a corner before he is able to decide on a passing option. His tenacity on the forecheck is a positive, but he needs to make the decision to push on the forecheck quicker otherwise he isn’t going to pressure players nearly as much.
Gustafson is a player that has a long way to go in order to make it to the NHL. We’re looking at a development timeline of at least four to five years at this point. Gustafson has some tools that teams can develop in order to turn him into an NHL player, but the amount of red flags in his game make me believe that teams will hold off on selecting him until at least the third or fourth round. There’s also a significant possibility that the right team will have to develop Gustafson, too. He’ll need to play in a system where he won’t have to be the primary play driver.
The positive aspects of Gustafson’s game are his ability to evade coverage in the offensive zone, his above average to elite shot and his two way play. Gustafson is a goal scorer with a quick and accurate shot, and the other aspects of his game can complement his scoring ability nicely. If developed properly, it’s not out of the question to expect a handful of 20-goal seasons from Gustafson in the future. The problem with him is that the negative aspects of his game, at least in my eyes, have led me to believe that Gustafson will fall short of the NHL barring some major changes. Gustafson’s skating is average at best and he’ll need a lot of work on mechanics and speed in order to keep up at the NHL level. His hockey sense can be inconsistent and seems to only shine when he’s looking to shoot when the puck is on his stick. I’ll often see Gustafson wait for the play to come to him rather than seek out offensive opportunities, leading me to believe that he’s more of a passenger and complementary piece on his line rather than a play driver.
I also don’t see Gustafson as a center at the NHL level. There’s very little that shows me that he can get the puck deep and play in the middle of the ice effectively. Gustafson can play effectively along the perimeter but struggles to do more than that on a consistent basis. If he can improve his skating, then I might circle back to this opinion. A quicker Gustafson would be able to do more in the offensive zone, but it still doesn’t ease my mind about the fact that he waits for the play to come to him. Gustafson seems to wait for his teammates to run the cycle.
Gustafson has potential as a goal scorer, albeit a fairly one-dimensional one. A team can work with him on his skating and make him more of a threat in transition, but ultimately, you’re getting the most out of him when he’s shooting the puck, not when he’s passing it. Given the amount of development needed in his game, it’s likely that Gustafson is a slow cook prospect that you’ll leave in the minors for 2-3 years while he continues to work on rounding out his game. I see a player that, if he makes it to the NHL, could play on a third line and score roughly 15-20 goals a season while getting 10-15 assists.
March 19, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Matthew Somma. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @Mattsomma12.
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