Josh Harding, whom some suggest should become the starter for the Minnesota Wild, went down with an unspecified lower body injury Thursday night. He was relieved in the second intermission by Niklas Backstrom in a 3-1 Wild victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. This is another example of the frailty of the current NHL ready goaltenders in the organization. This goalie tandem has been together for seven seasons and things haven’t gotten any better.
Prospects in the system
Darcy Kuemper has been the regular fill in for these two and has appeared in a handful of NHL games, including the playoffs last year and one disastrous appearance this year in which he was relieved early. Kuemper is expected by many to be the future in goal for the organization after Matt Hackett was sent to the Buffalo Sabres in the Jason Pominville trade.
The Wild sent a message with that trade that they were happy with the prospects in the organization, led by Kuemper. Kuemper should be given some regularity in the AHL for his development.
Enter Johan Gustafsson, the Wild’s sixth round pick and 159th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Today the Wild recalled Gustafsson from the Iowa Wild to cover for Harding as he recovers. According to Wild Coach Mike Yeo, Harding is day-to-day and is feeling better, but is being held out as a precaution.
Yeo: Hards felt a lot better today. Just kept him off to be safe. Lower body strain. Flared up during game, good news it felt better today
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 25, 2013
You would expect that the Wild would bring Kuemper back, but maybe they want to let him continue to start at the AHL level so he can have some consistency. Lucky for the Wild, Gustafsson’s stats are actually better than Kuemper’s so far this season.
The new backup?
Backstrom will likely be the starter for the Wild, but if we have learned anything about him it’s probably good to know his backup. Gustafsson was part of a large class of Swedish prospects (20) chosen in the 2010 draft. He is a self-described butterfly goaltender who looked up to Henrik Lundqvist as his hero while growing up in Sweden.
Gustafsson has played in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) since the age of 17 and became the starter for Lulea HF at 19. Last season was clearly his best with Lulea HF where he averaged only 1.70 goals against and a save percentage of .932. And this was not against weak competition. In Lundqvist’s first season in the SHL, he had a goals against average of 2.71 with a save percentage of .899.
Gustafsson in international play
He also has some experience at the international level playing with the Swedish national team. He won the gold with the U20 team at the IIHF tournament in 2012.
Keep in mind that the gold was won in Canada against the US, Russian, and Canadian teams, which will be his primary competition throughout his career. These other rosters contained several names on NHL stat sheets today such as Nail Yakupov (EDM), Mikael Granlund (MIN), Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA), Brett Connolly (TBL), Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF) and many others.
Looking around the league and seeing the success of young goaltenders like Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky can make Wild fans jealous. Gustafsson would be quite a find considering the fact that he was not a marquee prospect. He can be that level of goalie. He gets his pads down quick and keeps his stick on the ice. The real test is going to be whether or not he can handle the wristers and snap shots at the NHL level. Hopefully he’ll get a chance in net and give Wild fans a reason to be hopeful about the future of the position for the first time in franchise history.