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Decision Time for Gustafsson

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The 19-year-old’s contract will lock in if he plays again this season.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights
Nov 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Winnipeg Jets center David Gustafsson (19) skates during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets have reached a decision making deadline when it comes to young forward David Gustafsson.

The 19-year-old has played nine NHL games this season, and if he plays 10, his contract locks in, making him ineligible for the entry-level slide, and that much closer to free agency. Gustafsson has no points this season, two shots on net, is 19-of-38 (50%) at the faceoff dot, and has averaged exactly six minutes of ice-time per game. His Corsi For % at Even Strength is a lowly 37.3.

With Gustafsson taking line rushes on the fourth line between Joona Luoto and Logan Shaw this morning at Jets practice, it seems quite likely that the Jets intend to play him on Friday when the Vancouver Canucks come to town.

So, I guess the question is: why?

Six minutes of ice per night is not how a young player develops, and the Jets will be giving themselves unnecessary salary cap issues by allowing his entry-level slide to disappear. Despite being 19, Gustafsson is eligible to play with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, as he was drafted from a European team and his rights are not held by a team in the CHL. He can also return to Europe, where he has played with the HV71 team in the SHL.

There are options at forward that the Jets can call up from the Moose that do not face these problems. Recently named AHL Player of the Week Jansen Harkins is still waivers exempt, as are Andrei Chibisov and 2017 first round pick Kristian Vesalainen. The Jets do not have to play Gustafsson.

In the end, Gustafsson will likely play on Friday, but with limited contributions thus far, and contract implications, it doesn’t really make any sense.