From Beauchemin to Stalberg, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below before voting) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Maple Leafs for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. That means only guys that are still property of the Maple Leafs. We're doing this in concert with Maple Leafs Hot Stove. Next up, Jonas Gustavsson courtesy of a special guest blogger.
#50 / Goalie / Toronto Maple Leafs
Oct 24, 1984
Years in NHL: 1
Became a Leaf: Signed as a free agent; Summer of 2009.
Contract Status: Recently signed two year deal; $1.35M caphit.
2009 - Jonas Gustavsson
The Summary: Back with another guest post is The Goalie Guild's Justin Goldman. Jonas Gustavsson's choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer ended a long period of courtship from a number of NHL teams. The world's best goaltender outside of the NHL's decision to join the Leafs gave the team a goalie of the future. His season was, to say the least, a roller coaster ride that ended with some decent numbers. Brian Burke has built a strong support system for the young Swede and seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Let's see what Justin thought of Jonas
Read entire post before voting. More after the jump.
Developing a raw-skilled Swedish goalie is more like alchemy than hard science. With the Maple Leafs ravenously stockpiling more promising prospects for Francois Allaire, Brian Burke knows the secret elixir of scouting, coaching philosophy and effective game management that can create a pedigree of elite goaltending.
For Jonas Gustavsson, as with most raw-skilled Europeans, transforming into an NHL goalie in one short summer is almost an impossible task. Mired by some serious technical difficulties, which ran the gamut of everything from angles and positioning to the more commonplace rookie issues like rebound control, Jonas experienced the darkest side of that transition process. For the entire first half of the season, many believed he was simply unfit for the NHL.
But when the second heart issue shelved him for two weeks in early December, everything changed for Jonas. In came J-S Giguere as a veteran mentor, then up went his confidence while acting as Henrik Lundqvist's backup in the Olympics. He returned to Toronto a totally different goalie, as he rattled off seven straight wins in March and allowed just 24 goals against in that stretch. It was good enough to boost his save percentage (which was well below .900) to .902 by season's end, which was a very respectable number considering how much he struggled in the first half.
Although it was not discussed much, Gustavsson had to deal with many intense mental and emotional pressures over the summer and during the season. Whether it was the loss of his mother, the intermittent pulsations of his heart or the inconsistent and controversial play, nothing came easy for Jonas. That's not to mention the elevated pressure and expectations a goalie might feel playing in a hockey-mad market like Toronto.
But Jonas battled through it all, and rarely said a word. Never was he seen losing control of his emotions, which went a long way in building his reputation as a tireless and committed worker. Despite all the adversity and sorrow that comes from losing a parent and being tossed in a totally new culture, he still maintained a steady skills progression.
Behind a strong willingness to learn, Gustavsson's play in April was more relaxed and routine than ever before. His confidence removed anxiety and he continued to improve mentally until the season ended. His perseverance and mental toughness ultimately paid off, as he was chosen (by local media) as the team's Masterton Trophy nominee. In conclusion, a solid foundation was laid for what could be an even stronger sophomore campaign. Jonas took giant strides in the transitioning process that every prospect must experience if they expect to have lengthy NHL careers.
With Allaire, Giguere and Burke nurturing his development, Gustavsson will continue to improve all areas of his game. A new two-year contract on April 15 continued the domino effect of confidence-boosting experiences for Jonas, which was followed up by his most recent admirable outings for Sweden in the IIHF World Championships.
Clearly his post-Olympic play salvaged his rookie season. He rattled off seven straight wins in March and in those final ten games, the Monster went 7-2-1, allowed only 24 goals total and posted a .915 save percentage.
Of Gustavsson's 39 starts, a whopping 21 of them, or 53.8 percent, was a one-goal win or loss. In those 21 games, he posted a 9-12 record and suffered nine losses in OT, which is 42.9 percent total. That's a lot of pressure-filled, closely-fought games, don't you think? To put that in perspective, maybe no other goalie played in more one-goal games than Henrik Lundqvist. Of his 72 starts, 33 of them, or 45.8 percent, was a one-goal win or loss. In those 33 games, he posted a 13-20 record and suffered 10 losses in OT, which is 30.3 percent total.
Clearly it was his ability to stay focused. Improving his skills and learning the ropes of being an NHL goaltender while clad in emotional distress was quite the feat. His humble and positive attitude allowed him to turn his season around and post respectable statistics while gaining more than 40 games of valuable NHL experience.
His weak angles and positioning. Regardless of whether or not these issues were attributed to the smaller ice surface or just a lack of talent at the NHL level, Gustavsson simply struggled to stop the puck with any kind of consistency or efficiency for more than half of his rookie season.
The biggest and most visible issue with Gustavsson's technique was his inability to keep his eyes on the puck and see around bodies and through traffic. Shots from the point would cleanly beat him with more regularity than anyone wanted. These goals, which often were of the power-play variety, would erode his confidence and lead to rebound control and composure issues.
Gustavsson was clearly under a lot of stress from the day he first signed with Toronto. The off-ice emotional stress, on-ice physical stress and the mental stresses of playing in the NHL must have taken quite a toll on him. Did the Leafs put too much on his shoulders? Should he have started off with the Marlies? Did his minutes need to be managed differently? Did it impact his long-term value? In my humble opinion, I think not. A famous person once told me that a young man's deeds become an old man's wisdom. Although it may have almost killed him, the pressures he experienced will only make him stronger mentally next season...and for the rest of his NHL career.
This is where you get to play talent evaluator. Rate Gustavsson on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1. Back up your vote in the comments section and bring up anything else related to Francois that you'd like to discuss.
About the guest blogger
Justin Goldman is the founder of The Goalie Guild, an independent goalie scouting service based in Denver, Colorado. Justin covers goalies for www.DobberHockey.com and McKeen's and is also the host of Avalanche Weekly on Mile High Sports Radio AM 1510, the team's flagship radio station. You can also follow him on Twitter @TheGoalieGuild.