Even with his team only four points from last place in the entire league, Maple Leafs rookie Jonas Gustavsson says his first season in the NHL has, so far, been a lot of "fun."
Which isn't a word many in the Leafs dressing room are using to describe the current state of affairs.
In a year of poor seasons for almost everyone in Toronto, however, Gustavsson has been solid for a green rookie, easily out playing Vesa Toskala to takeover the starting role. Gustavsson has started nine of the past 12 games, and while his team continues to lose games, he has rarely been to blame.
He said today at practice that one of the big positives of the season is that he's been able to start regularly when healthy, essentially establishing himself as the No. 1 when that was anything but guaranteed coming in.
"This is the first season for me as an NHLer, so it's still fun to come to the rink everyday and just get the chance practice with the guys and play games, too," Gustavsson said. "I just try to make the most of it every time I'm here. Maybe it's tougher if you've been here for 15 years or something like that, but this is my first year. Even if you're losing or winning - it's exciting anyways. I have lots of energy.
"It'd be even funner if we were winning, but I know I've got a good chance and not everybody gets the chance to play for an NHL team. I'm just trying to make the most of it and work hard."
Gustavsson is a restricted free agent this summer and said he doesn't yet have a sense of his future, with the Leafs or another NHL team. He's shown some potential while playing behind a poor team this season, however, and likely gets interest from other clubs if Toronto doesn't offer him a contract.
At 25 and with so little experience outside of Sweden, he would probably be better served by spending time as a backup or in a tandem with a solid veteran netminder next season, something the Leafs will have to look for in the off-season given Toskala's unlikely to return.
"It's almost half of the season left so I don't try to think so much about what's going to happen next year," Gustavsson said. "When I decide that then I'll know. I like it here and I'd love to stay here - that's no secret. It's up to me to play good and try to prove myself."
As for playing for a team spiralling into the NHL's basement, he's optimistic about that, too.
"I think sooner or later it's going to turn around … it's tough, but we can't feel sorry about ourselves," he said. "We have to keep working and things will be fine."
The Leafs made a minor roster change today, sending rookie Viktor Stalberg down to the AHL in favour of tough guy Jay Rosehill. Toronto was pushed around in its last meeting with the Flyers, a 6-2 loss in Philadelphia, and with the Broadstreet Bullies in town Thursday, wanted more muscle in the lineup.
Stalberg had struggled of late and played just 10 minutes in the 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday night. He has 21 points in 19 games in the minors this season.