On the 20th of June, 2008, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee gave New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello a call. He offered to trade him the Caps' 1st round-pick, 23rd overall, and their second-round one, 54th overall, to try to trade up to 21nd overall. Lamoriello accepted, and the team selected Anton Gustafsson, son of Capitals legend Bengt-Åke Gustafsson.
Three years later, they are releasing him.
Gustafsson and his agent, JP Barry, reportedly asked the Caps and George McPhee if he could be released. The Swede feels his career in DC has stalled and that he needs a new start. The Caps placed him on unconditional waivers around noon yesterday, and he cleared today. The Caps have subsequently terminated his contract, and he is no longer part of the organisation.
The relationship felt strained right from the beginning. Gustafsson wasn't able to play at his first development camp due to a back injury, and the Capitals brass felt he was making excuses. Despite spending a disappointing season with Bofors IK in the Allsvenskan, the Swedish second-tier league, Gustafsson was signed to a three-year entry-level deal on May 15, 2009.
He reported to the Capitals training camp that summer in a similar situation to that of Marcus Johansson last year, but unlike the Caps fan-favourite Gustafsson didn't make the team and was assigned to Hershey. In an attempt to get him more playing time than was likely in Hershey, the Capitals loaned him to Borås HC, also in the Allsvenskan, and he impressed there. He was expected to come to training camp last summer and make the team but he didn't. He was assigned to Hershey, who later assigned him to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, and a couple of days later he informed the team that he would return home as he was not enjoying his hockey anymore. The team immediately suspended his contract.
In January last year, he finally signed a contract with a new team, the SCL Tigers in Switzerland. He played the rest of the season, recording only one assist. He did not receive an invite do development camp this year.
The 2008 draft cannot be seen as a total failure, as the Capitals did pick-up John Carlson with their second first-round pick. In fact, they also picked up Dmitry Kugryshev in the second round and Braden Holtby in the fourth, but when you think of what might have been, the thought of this pick can be quite sickening. With the very next pick, the Edmonton Oilers drafted Jordan Eberle, a top young player. With the Caps original first-rounder, the New Jersey Devils drafted Mattias Tedenby, another young talent making a name for himself. And with the second-round pick the Capitals used to trade up, the Devils drafted Patrice Cormier, a top prospect in the Winnipeg Jets' system and significant makeweight in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade.
It's safe to say, General Manager George McPhee will be eager to forget this pick.
Gustafsson only ever played one pro game in North America, for the Hershey Bears. He recorded two assists.