Winnipeg Jets summon "The Gus Bus" from the Moose

Our weekly conversation with 680 CJOB hockey analyst John Shannon touches on COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the NHL and what it could mean for the season plus what's plaguing the inconsistent Winnipeg Jets.

The Winnipeg Jets have addressed their need for a forward by putting in the call to their Manitoba Moose AHL affiliate for David Gustafsson.

Following the loss of Riley Nash, who was claimed on waivers by Tampa Bay prior to the team leaving for last Thursday’s game in Seattle – and then a right leg or knee injury to captain Blake Wheeler during Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss in Vancouver, the Jets dressed just 11 healthy forwards for the 4-2 home loss to Buffalo on Tuesday.

The decision to go with one less forward and an extra defenceman was a result of a positive COVID-19 test on the Moose that delayed bringing a player up from the farm team until the Jets were confident they would not be leaving themselves exposed to a potential spread of the virus that is affecting so many other NHL teams right now.

Related: Jets reunion of Lowry and Copp was done with purpose

Gustafsson skated with the big club during a spirited practice on Thursday and says he’s arriving in a good frame of mind.

“I’m very happy with the start of my season and I feel like it’s been going good both for me and the Moose down there,” said the Jets 2018 second-round draft pick who is tied for the team scoring lead with 7 goals and 9 assists for 16 points in 23 games.

The 21-year-old Swede didn’t get much of a look during the pre-season, with players like Cole Perfetti, Jansen Harkins, Kristian Vesalainen, and free agent Evgeny Svechnikov given more opportunities in the all-out competition to crack a spot on the NHL roster.

So coach Paul Maurice explained why Gustafsson was getting his chance now. “Well he’s played really well. We want those players to play big minutes. The 4th line in the NHL is not a big-minute role.”

But that’s exactly where Gustafsson will be slotted Friday night at Canada Life Centre when the Jets host Washington at 7 p.m.

Although he’ll centre a couple of familiar faces in Harkins and Vesalainen who he had developed some chemistry with when the trio played together on the Moose.

“I know them both since a couple of years,” said the 6’2″, 196-pound pivot from the small town of Tingsryd in the southeast part of Sweden.

“We’ve been to development camps together so it’s nice to see us all creeping up and playing together here now.”

READ MORE: Jets will be without captain for “weeks”

And Maurice feels the combination of those three young players will bring out the best in each of them.

“There’s going to be energy for all three of them,” predicted the Winnipeg bench boss who will be looking for a more energetic performance from his troops following the back-to-back home losses to the Sabres, and Carolina the week before. “It changes who they play against for one, and it changes that idea that you’ve got to keep somebody happy.”

That last comment was likely made in reference to Vesalainen and Harkins playing with veterans like Adam Lowry and Paul Stastny in recent games.

In a recent re-distribution of the lines, Stastny has been moved up to play on the left side of Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers while it will also be a reunion of sorts for Lowry and his longtime linemate Andrew Copp who will be joined by Dominic Toninato on what Maurice intends to use as a shutdown line to provide better balance up front.

“I just hadn’t thought our bottom six was particularly defined. I’ve spread it out a little bit,” said Maurice who is looking for better balance up front during Wheeler’s absence, which will be weeks according to the head coach. “I like a little better definition of our bottom six so I know what’s coming off the bench.”

Gustafsson saw very limited action during a four-game stint with the Jets in the early part of last season before being assigned to the Moose.

And he was primarily a 5-6 minute per night 4th-liner in the 22 games he dressed for Winnipeg during his rookie pro season in 2019-20.

But he feels parts of two very productive seasons with the Moose have prepared him to take better advantage of this latest opportunity.

“I’ve grown a year ago since I was here and got more comfortable with everything- like outside the ice and on the ice,” explained the guy they call Gus. “Just feel like I have a much better opportunity this year.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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