2021-22 Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Date of Birth: Jan. 20, 2004
Place of Birth: Ardrossan, AB
Wt: 179 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 43 (amongst NA skaters)
- FC Hockey: 82
- Recruit Scouting: 81
- Peter Baracchini’s March Rankings: 64
- Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 69
- Matthew Zator’s April Rankings: 57
- Smaht Scouting: Honorable Mention (just outside top-64)
- Bob McKenzie’s Rankings: 67
In today’s NHL, skating ability is one of the most important assets a player can have, as a weak stride or inability to play with pace can be one of the toughest flaws to overcome. Luckily, Jordan Gustafson doesn’t have to worry about this as he prepares for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Playing with a deep Seattle Thunderbirds lineup, some scouts dropped him down the rankings during the 2021-22 campaign after he was considered a potential first-round candidate by some before the season started. Still, Gustafson should hear his name called on Day 2 and become a real asset to an NHL team down the line.
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
It starts with his skating ability, which drives just about everything Gustafson does as a player. Not only does he have good straight-line speed, but he is also capable of making quick cuts and crossovers that put junior defenders in a bind with regularity. In games, he was able to quickly eat up the cushion of his defenders’ gaps, and in one postseason game, he easily could have drawn a tripping penalty that went undetected, but just a shift or two later made a similar play with speed, danced around a defender, and drew a call. The Thunderbirds scored shortly thereafter. His ability to focus on defense and put his team on the man advantage should be very attractive to NHL teams, especially in today’s game where special teams are so crucial.
Outside of his skating, one of his most enticing skills is his shooting ability. There are few if any nits to pick with his wrist shot, aside from maybe adding a little velocity – which should come naturally with added strength once he enters an NHL training program and fills out. However, he still has a lightning-quick release and is capable of picking his spot from anywhere, be it through traffic, from a distance, or in tight on a goaltender. His release and accuracy give him legitimate goal-scoring potential at any level. He scored 23 goals (and 29 assists) in 58 regular-season games in 2021-22 and took his production up a notch in the first round of the WHL playoffs, with nine points (two goals) in Seattle’s five-game dismantling of the Kelowna Rockets.
Often used in the bumper spot (in the high slot) or at the top of the right circle on Seattle’s power play – where he can easily take one-timers as a left-hand shot – Gustafson makes quick, decisive passes and hunts his shot with regularity. He projects to be a weapon on NHL special teams, and Seattle also regularly used him as a penalty killer, where his speed and work ethic proved to be an asset. His defensive play overall can be hit or miss, but he has real upside in that area, especially when he’s fully engaged.
Speaking of engagement and compete level, it can be seen as a plus or a minus with Gustafson – it just depends on when you see him. When his motor is running hot, he’s one of the best and most noticeable players on the ice. Despite a relatively small frame for a center, he plays a physical game, and that, along with his skating ability, makes him a pest to play against. He plays the body every chance he gets and is an extremely effective forechecker. However, there are also times when he seems a bit passive and looks a little less hungry, which limits his effectiveness (as it does with any player at any level that has bouts of inconsistency). Being fully engaged on a night-in-night-out basis should be one of Gustafson’s biggest goals as he continues to develop.
He rarely makes mistakes by trying to do too much or force plays that aren’t there. Instead, he has the awareness to make the safe, simple play. He doesn’t yet possess the sort of vision or game-breaking skill that lends itself to generating consistent, flashy plays, as highly creative moves or seam passes created from high-end vision or anticipation are not a part of his game. However, he is capable of scoring at a top-six level in the WHL, but most of this production comes from relatively straightforward north-south plays focused on getting the puck towards the net. There is a question of how much of his offense will translate to the sport’s highest level.
If a team is looking for a dynamic, play-driving player who projects to anchor their top six, Gustafson is probably not their guy. But, if they are looking for a player to develop into a reliable, two-way center with speed and a little juice in the offensive end after the first round or two, teams could certainly do worse.
“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.” – Matthew Somma, Smaht Scouting
“Gustafson is a steady, consistent presence who displays advanced hockey sense. He doesn’t drive a lot of play himself, but he’s around the puck a lot and is usually helping out in some way. He seems perfectly comfortable playing center and handling that extra responsibility regardless of the situation.” – Derek Neumeier, FC Hockey
“At times, Gustafson overhandled the puck in tight spaces. While he can sometimes coast around, not affecting the play as much as I would like, at times, he is still effective in his ability to support his teammates. All in all, he played a pretty good game where he was able to capitalize on his opportunities and remain effective in various ways.” – Josh Pace, Dobber Prospects
- Skating (both speed and quickness)
- Highly accurate shot
- Special teams proficiency
- Physical play
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Vision and passing
- Consistent engagement off-puck
- Consistency in his skating stride (specifically edge work)
While he may not have any game-breaking traits that scream “can’t-miss” prospect, Gustafson is a pretty well-rounded player who can wear many hats and be a useful NHLer if he develops properly. His ceiling likely maxes out as a third-line center, but he could develop into a very good one who kills penalties, helps the power play, and provides some physicality and goal scoring.
We’ve seen how valuable depth players with speed and offensive ability can be in the NHL, as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning proved with four lines stocked with legitimate threats. Perhaps Gustafson will be seen by some teams as their shot to grab their own Blake Coleman – and that’s worth a mid-round pick in my book. Expect him to go anywhere between the late-second and fourth round in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Risk – 2/5, Reward –3/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense- 6/10, Defense- 7/10
Jordan Gustafson Statistics
Brandon Stanley covers the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. Born and raised in Raleigh, NC, in addition to writing about the Hurricanes for about five years now, he played hockey in NC for about 15 years. Many of those in the Carolina Junior Canes program, and hockey has always been his biggest passion. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Brandon also co-hosts and edits a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. Always available to chat anything hockey related, don’t hesitate to shoot him a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!