The Ohio State Men’s Ice Hockey team celebrates after senior defenseman Matt Miller (50) scores a goal with assistance from sophomore forward Gustaf Westlund (29) during the Ohio State-Omaha game on Oct.18. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | For the Lantern

Gustaf Westlund couldn’t find a rhythm during his freshman season.

Injuries and a transition from the sophomore forward’s home country of Sweden kept him off beat and below his potential for the Ohio State men’s hockey team.

Now, as the Buckeyes need players to dance forward and replace the point-per-game hockey savant known as Mason Jobst, Westlund has waltzed from the gate to the tune of a team-high 14 points in 13 games. 

“Coming back to something you’re familiar with, guys you’re familiar with, your friends — when you’re a new guy in a new environment, you’re trying to adjust, you’re trying to get used to it,” Westlund said. “But now you’re coming back to something you’re familiar with, and I think that’s a big part of it.”

Westlund finished the 2018-19 season No. 8 on the team, with 19 points for the Buckeyes. Through a third of the 2019-20 campaign, he’s already five points away from that total, increasing his goal total from five to eight.

Injuries held him to 25 contests this past season. Senior forward Carson Meyer, who called Westlund the team’s “most skilled player,” said the difference in Westlund’s ability to avoid injury was palpable after the former United States Hockey League star received private training in Sweden.

Westlund said he sought out somebody he could trust in his home country.

“You want to have somebody you believe in. When I’m home, it’s hard to work with the guys that are here,” Westlund said.

With Westlund’s health in check, the skill Meyer noted has been on full display. He leads the team in goals, finishing shots at a blistering rate of 22 percent — No. 1 among Buckeyes with at least 10 attempts this season.

Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said a ramp-up in Westlund’s confidence is the primary prop that helped jump his production from the previous season. 

“That’s the key. He’s a hockey player. He loves to play hockey. He was on the ice all summer, as you can see from his skill set,” Rohlik said. “But to me, it’s all about a confidence level.”

Westlund said his confidence leap has centered around familiarity with the team, with a year of adjustment to Ohio State under his belt.

Meyer was the primary catalyst for his comfort at Ohio State.

“Carson’s always been, since day one, pretty much my best friend,” Westlund said. “We’re all good friends and they’re all great teammates. We go to battle for each other every night.”

Meyer sees great value in Westlund as a player, too, and believes he brings great value to the squad now that he’s up to speed.

“He’s really, really shifty. He’s quick with his skates, and his stick-handling is really, really good,” Meyer said. “He can make guys miss, makes guys look silly a lot.”

Another element that complements ability with stick and skates is vision on the ice, Westlund said, and it’s an aspect of his skill set that he takes pride in.

Playing tennis and soccer growing up helped him learn how to use his peripherals, surveying an entire field of play.

“[It helps for] getting the awareness up of where pucks, in this case, can be or where you want to be to help out your teammates, and where you want to play the puck so your teammates set up well,” Westlund said. “In tennis and soccer, it’s a ball, and it’s bouncing differently, and I think that’s helped me.”

Owning more points than games is a tremendous way to dance into a season.

Rohlik, however, believes Westlund is just getting started.

“He’s just scratching the surface for what he could be, but he’s electric and his skill set’s as good as anybody’s,” Rohlik said. “When he puts everything together, you’re gonna see one heck of a hockey player.”