LAVAL, Que. — Ottawa Senators rookie goalie Filip Gustavsson knows he’s been given a chance of a lifetime and he doesn’t intend to waste it.
Gustavsson is being touted as Ottawa’s next franchise goaltender. The 20-year-old is a potential replacement to Craig Anderson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season. Instead of shying away from the accolades, or being burdened by the pressure, Gustavsson is embracing all of it.
"It comes with pressure because I know they want something big from me," said Gustavsson at the Senators rookie camp on Friday. "I try to just work the hardest I can and I will see where I end up. I can’t do more than that."
The Senators prospect is no stranger to pressure. He was Sweden’s starting goaltender at this year’s world junior championship, where he won silver and was named the tournament’s best netminder.
The six-foot-two Swede was initially bothered by the trade that sent him from the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that drafted him 55th overall in 2016, to the Canadian capital earlier this year. But now Gustavsson sees it as a direct route to the NHL.
"Right now, I feel like the trade was really good for me," said Gustavsson, who was part of a trade that sent centre Derick Brassard and a third-round pick to the Pens. "I have a good opportunity here. Craig (Anderson) is (37), so it’s a great opportunity for me if I show I’m really good.
"I wasn’t prepared for the development camp and right away I got (expletive) for it because I wasn’t the best goalie there. That shows they have real high expectations of me and I want to show it right now."
Gustavsson is one of 27 players at Ottawa’s rookie camp. He made 15 saves for the shut out as the Senators’ rookie team beat the Montreal Canadiens‘ rookie squad 4-0 in the first game of a three-day tournament that also features the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Sens got goals from Alex Formenton, Christian Jaros and Brady Tkachuk, with two.
Gustavsson is expected to play this coming season with the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League. He made his professional debut with Belleville at the end of last season, going 2-4-0 with .912 save percentage in seven starts with his new club.
"If I hadn’t had those games last year, I think I would have been more nervous here today that I had to prove how good I am," said Gustavsson, who previously played for Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League. "But knowing that I played good over there, it makes me more comfortable."
The Sens goaltending prospect wants to play as much as he can in the AHL this year. His goal is to crack Ottawa’s NHL roster in two years — as the team’s starter.
"I don’t want to be a backup in the NHL," he said. "When I go up there, I want to play. If they want me to go up and be a backup, I’d rather play games in the AHL just to get better."
Belleville coach Troy Mann, who joined Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in the summer, says it’s too early to say whether Gustavsson is NHL material or not, but he likes what he sees so far.
"He’s very reserved but he has passion for the game," said Mann. "You see that in practice, at every shot. You have to be upset when pucks are going in the net, and that’s what I’ve seen from him.
"There have been a lot of really good goaltenders come from overseas and struggle the first two or three months in the American league. But we’re certainly looking forward to what he can bring to the table."