- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Given the way the past two years have gone, Anton Gustafsson understandably was concerned when he crashed into the goal Monday with some help from roommate Dmitri Orlov.

The 2008 first-round pick by the Washington Capitals has battled injuries the past two years, including a back problem that limited his time at development camp last summer to one day of work.

“At first I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, not again,’ but it was OK,” Gustafsson said.

The son of former Caps star Bengt Gustafsson, Anton popped up from the ice, dusted himself off without any problems and went back to work. He has been one of the better players at this camp through two days, which will include the first scrimmage of the week Wednesday afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“We loved his 45 minutes last year and hope he can give us a good week of hockey this week,” Washington general manager George McPhee said. “We just want to see how far along he has come. He looks like a pretty good player. I watched him on video about a month ago, and it looks like he is really coming along, and we just want to get a good understanding of where he is.”

Added Gustafsson: “[My back] is really good now. I can do everything on the ice, so that makes me more happy. I want to show everybody who didn’t see me last year why they picked me.”

When the Caps selected Gustafsson with the 21st pick, he said he expected to play two more years in Sweden - one in HockeyAllsvenskan (the No. 2 league in the country) and one in Elitserien (the elite league).

But then Gustafsson changed his mind. He wants to play in North America next season, whether it is with the Caps or with Hershey in the American Hockey League.

“The situation in Frolunda wasn’t what I liked,” Gustafsson said. “They’ve been grabbing all the best players in the country to try to be a good team. It is pretty hard to get in that team with all those star players. I can’t imagine playing for another elite league team than Frolunda.

“I see six centermen who are older and much better than me. My chance to play for Frolunda is pretty small, so it is my position that I want to come over and play here.”

Gustafsson is projected to be a solid two-way center, although he’s a long shot at best to make the Caps roster next season. However, he’s OK with accumulating more seasoning in Hershey.

“He seems to want to try to play here [in North America],” McPhee said. “If in our minds he’s ready and he thinks he’s ready, then he will.”

Added Gustafsson: “Just to learn how to play here and play a lot I hope - I’m just happy being here around this organization. This place here is just amazing, and I am trying to learn something every day. Of course I want to play here, but I won’t be disappointed if I go down to Hershey.”

Playing a lot - a byproduct of staying healthy - is key for Gustafsson’s development. Injuries have interrupted each of the past two seasons.

His back was a problem two years ago, and this past season a knee injury and broken finger hindered him. He had six goals and 10 points in 25 games for Bofors of HockeyAllsvenskan and then had seven points in five postseason games with Frolunda’s top junior club.

While Caps fans continue to monitor his progress, Gustafsson likely will be compared to his father, who compiled 555 points in nine seasons for Washington and now coaches the Swedish national team.

“We don’t talk so much about me as a player,” Anton said. “Sometimes when I was younger he would just say good game or bad game. He wants to be a dad just like everybody else and let the coaches train me to know what to do.

“We’re two different guys. What he did I know he did it well, but I’m not going to do everything the same way. … I hope they didn’t draft me because I am my father’s son. I hope they drafted me because I am a good player.”

Note - The Caps released their 2009-10 preseason schedule Tuesday. Washington plays a game at home and on the road against Buffalo, Chicago and the New York Rangers. The home dates are Sept. 21 (Buffalo), Sept. 23 (Chicago) and a Sept. 27 matinee (New York). The regular-season slate will be announced Wednesday.

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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