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Let's give it another two years.

That was Filip Gustavsson's mind-set after he left Sweden a prized goaltending prospect only to find three seasons later he was still a nomad in the pipeline to the NHL.

He had just a smattering of promotions tucked in among the 75-plus games he'd logged in the minors; if it didn't pan out, he figured he could migrate home after making some money and seeing the world.

Now, nearing the end of that two-year timeline, Gustavsson's future no longer looks like it's stalled.

After an offseason trade to the Wild, the 24-year-old capitalized on a fresh start to showcase the pedigree that set him on this journey — so much so that he's blurred the typical hierarchy in net by splitting starts on a consistent basis with future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury.

"If they want me to have a bigger role and more effect," Gustavsson said, "then it feels like I succeeded with the things I wanted to do."

Technical training

A hockey player since the age of 5, Gustavsson tried forward and goalie growing up in Sweden before deciding preventing goals instead of scoring them was for him.

"You play all 60 minutes," he said. "You're always on the ice."

By the time he was 16, Gustavsson left his hometown of Skelleftea to join the program in Lulea, a move akin to swapping sides in a rivalry. But the switch was best for Gustavsson because Lulea is known for their goaltending coaching; it's the same team that graduated Wild first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt.

With Lulea, Gustavsson honed his technique. Every session during his first year was spent working on his post play, reps that he felt were boring at the time but movements that became second nature and the foundation of his game.

"Always being in the right place, it gives him the opportunity to make pretty hard saves look pretty simple," said Lulea's goalie coach Linda Blomquist.

Aside from the progress he was making with Lulea, Gustavsson was cultivating a clutch reputation with the national team and became the top-ranked European goaltender for his draft year before getting picked in the second round (55th overall) by Pittsburgh in 2016.

Less than two years later, the Penguins traded Gustavsson to the Senators, paving the way for the next turning point in his development.

"It looked like I had a path there," Gustavsson said.

Fun and games

When he left Sweden at 19 to kick off his North American pro career, Gustavsson started out in the American Hockey League.

Most of his games were with Belleville, Ottawa's affiliate, but Gustavsson had a brief stint in the ECHL. The following season, he was a full-time AHLer.

Not until the COVID-shortened campaign in 2021 did Gustavsson finally play for the Senators, the opportunity arriving after three goalies ahead of him on the depth chart got hurt; his NHL debut was actually a relief appearance.

Ottawa had recently claimed veteran Anton Forsberg off waivers, but Gustavsson started the next game. He won, earning another start, and then he won again.

"I kind of just got rolling," he said.

Gustavsson wasn't feeling any pressure, what with Ottawa not making the playoffs and the arenas devoid of fans due to pandemic restrictions.

But his goaltending coach with Belleville, Justin Peters, had also shaped Gustavsson's outlook so that he thought of playing hockey as having fun.

Peters could relate to Gustavsson; like Gustavsson, Peters was also a second-round pick before suiting up for Carolina, Washington and Arizona, and he passed along his experience.

"At the end of the day, it is just a game," Peters said.

When the season ended, Gustavsson finished 5-1-2 in the NHL, registering an impressive .933 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average.

"He had a game plan that he believed in," Peters said. "He was able to get to the NHL, get a little taste of it, have success. I think that was huge for his confidence moving forward."

Moving time

Rather than closing the book on this chapter with Ottawa, which Gustavsson had considered since he was on an expiring deal, he re-upped for two more years at $1.575 million.

Still, that option of going home after this new contract was on his radar.

In the meantime, he made a different move.

After splitting last season between Belleville and the NHL, the Senators traded Gustavsson to the Wild on July 12 for All-Star Cam Talbot. Gustavsson wasn't surprised by the news; he felt ready for a restart and when Wild General Manager Bill Guerin called Gustavsson, he said, "Hey, Gus. We're back now."

Guerin was Pittsburgh's assistant GM when the Penguins drafted Gustavsson, but Guerin wasn't the only one in-house familiar with Gustavsson. So was vice president of hockey strategy Mat Sells, who remembered Gustavsson being a 17-year-old standout.

The trade for Gustavsson came only days after Fleury re-signed. Talbot was disappointed to take a back seat to Fleury, but the Wild had done their homework on Gustavsson long before then. They were examining the goalie market in advance of the 2022 trade deadline because after eventually subtracting Kaapo Kahkonen and adding Fleury, they had only Talbot under contract for the next season.

Their scouts were intrigued by what they saw, and goaltending coach Frederic Chabot felt Gustavsson had a natural talent. Only instead of replacing Fleury, Gustavsson stepped in for Talbot.

"Maybe there's something we can offer him that other teams haven't," Guerin said.

Quality results

At the start of the season, Gustavsson played sparingly as he backed up Fleury. He was, however, on the hook for two of the team's losses in the first week after getting ushered in for mop-up duty.

Next was the beginning of his turnaround.

Gustavsson was solid in a 2-1 loss at Detroit Oct. 29 and followed that up with his first victory of the season Nov. 9 at Anaheim. Ten days later, he won the first of a career-high six straight, a run that included his first NHL shutout.

"You're kind of relieved a little bit," Gustavsson said of that initial victory. "Then I kind of just got rolling."

Sound familiar?

Since that win streak started on Nov. 19, Gustavsson has been one of the stingiest goalies in the NHL among those who've had a regular workload.

His 1.85 goals-against average is tops, while his .933 save percentage trails only Pittsburgh's Tristan Jarry (.937) and Boston's Linus Ullmark (.936).

"He doesn't chase the puck," Blomquist said. "He just lets the puck come to him, and he stays sort of inside his posts. Even if he's been out on a little stroll, he always finds his way back."

Gustavsson has made a quality start 72% of the time, and he's given up two goals or fewer in 13 of his 19 appearances. He's also saved 11 goals above expected, according to MoneyPuck.

Already, he's exceeded the Wild's expectations, and Guerin sees Gustavsson (a restricted free agent after the season) as part of the team's future.

"We didn't just give him those games," coach Dean Evason said. "He's pushed to get those games."

In January, Gustavsson rotated with Fleury for 10 in a row and went into the All-Star break having handled almost 40% of the Wild's schedule.

Considering how busy the rest of the way is and what's at stake, the Wild ranking third in the Central Division by only a point, maintaining this ratio to keep both goaltenders sharp would make sense.

"Fleury takes all the fame," said Gustavsson, who's 11-7-1 overall with a 2.26 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. "He has all these signs in all the hockey rinks we go to. Everyone's screaming, 'Fleury,' everything like that. He kind of has that pressure on him.

"I'm just the one behind him that plays hockey, so that's kind of nice."

Ready to stay

If he left the NHL two years ago, Gustavsson would probably still be playing hockey, most likely in Sweden's top league.

Yet if he left the NHL two years ago, the "perfect trade," as Gustavsson put it, might not have happened.

"Probably he felt like he was ready to give up a few times," Blomquist said. "But he kept going somehow, sort of believed that I know that my way of playing could be successful."

There's still a few more months left in that two-year window Gustavsson gave himself to see what he could accomplish, but he knows what he wants to do.

He wants to stay.

"I'm just happy to get every game I get," Gustavsson said. "Just happy to get more opportunity to show myself."