Zawaski: Colliton Expects More From Gustafsson

Jeremy Colliton challenged Erik Gustafsson to commit to the defensive end.

Jay Zawaski
October 10, 2019 - 10:24 am

(670 The Score) I’m not sure how this fell through the hockey cracks Wednesday afternoon.

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It could be the fact that the Blackhawks are well off the radar of most Chicago sports fans. It could be that their season opener took place at 1 p.m. on a Friday (good job, NHL). It could be that despite proving to be one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen, Erik Gustafsson is hardly a household name.

Whatever the reason, coach Jeremy Colliton called into question Gustafsson’s commitment to his defensive play ahead of the Blackhawks' home opener against the Sharks on Thursday evening.

"He can be good defensively," Colliton told reporters. "He just has to commit to it. When he’s engaged and keeping his shifts shorter, it’s much easier for him to play high level away from the puck, and that’s what we expect."

Commitment and engagement -- those words can't be ignored. 

There’s no denying Gustafsson’s offensive ability. He scored 60 points last season and was a huge part of the Blackhawks' power-play resurgence. However, he’s been incredibly accident-prone in his own end.

Gustafsson led all Blackhawks defensemen in offensive zone starts (60.85 percent) last season. Despite that, he was on the ice for more high-danger scoring chances against (345) that any other Blackhawk. He led the team with 69 giveaways.

The fact that Colliton believes he’s capable of more is simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. If Gustafsson is truly capable of being a plus -- or even an average -- defender, the Hawks defense will suddenly be pretty good. But how much change can be expected from a 27-year-old? If he was capable of being more "committed" and "engaged," wouldn’t Gustafsson have done it by now? Perhaps his impending free agency will be the kick in the tail that he needs to take his game to the next level.

If Gustafsson is going to be an offense-only player, there’s a cheaper and more talented version waiting in Rockford in Adam Boqvist.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon, a columnist for 670 The Score and the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. He's also the host of Locked on Blackhawks and the I'm Fat Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​