The scene has played out more than once in the Gustafsson household. The Swedish family sits down for a meal, and the father, who played in the NHL and coaches the national team, and his son, a burgeoning hockey talent, inevitably start discussing their craft.
“My younger sister throws down her plate and stands up and says, ‘Only thing you can talk about is hockey,’” Anton Gustafsson said. “She gets so pissed off. Mom gets pretty pissed off, too. It is usually about hockey. [My father] is always asking me about players and stuff like that.”
Gustafsson is far from those family dinners this week because he is participating in rookie camp for the Arlington. Many of the 26 players in camp were here during the summer for a week, but this is Gustafsson’s first taste of NHL life.
He missed summer development camp because of a herniated disc in his back. It has not fully healed yet and may not be for a considerable time, but Gustafsson was on the ice Sunday and went through the full workout - including a grueling 15-minute stretch of conditioning at the end.
“After my flight and the back problems, it was pretty tough,” said Gustafsson, who arrived Friday night. “It isn’t [100 percent], but I hope it will be over this season. This practice I took some hard shots on the back. I hope it will be better.”
The back injury was one of a couple of ailments that made Gustafsson something of a mystery to scouts before the 2008 draft. Sure, everyone knew him because of his famous father, but seeing him play was a challenge.
Bengt Gustafsson collected 555 points, was not dissuaded by the injuries and selected Gustafsson with the 21st pick in June.
“He’s pretty close to 100 percent,” general manager George McPhee said. “We were told it was something that would probably resolve itself, and it has.”
Gustafsson said a doctor told him it could be two years before he feels completely healthy. This summer he focused on strengthening the muscles in his back and stomach to help combat the disc issue.
He will be with the Caps only for a week before heading back to Swedish Elite League next season and then come to North American in 2010.
The season already has started in Sweden, so he had to excuse himself from the team and miss a regular-season game to attend the camp.
“They weren’t happy, but I said this is what I wanted to do,” Gustafsson said. “The coach - Ottawa - understood. He said, ‘Of course you should go,’ but the general manager was not so happy.”
Being a first-round pick makes for heightened expectations, but pressure is nothing new to Gustafsson. With his dad revered in Sweden both for his abilities on the ice and his contributions as the national coach, carving out a career in the same NHL city Bengt flourished in probably isn’t going to be that big of a deal.
“It is always hard, but it is funny, too,” Gustafsson said. “Many expect me to be as good as him, and that is tough. Many say, ‘Oh there is Bengt’s son,’ and I want to be known as Anton. When people see my father, I want them to say, ‘Oh, that is Anton’s dad.’ That is what I want.”
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