Forsberg represents pain and gain for Predators

Matt Larkin
Filip Forsberg (Getty Images)
Filip Forsberg (Getty Images)

Shock rang through the Hockey News office.

“They traded who?!”

It was April 3, 2013, a.k.a. deadline day. The late-afternoon announcement: Washington had sent Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.

The Capitals were fighting tooth and nail to win the Southeast division and needed to enhance their top six forwards. But GM George McPhee had just traded one of his organization’s jewels. Forsberg, a, lanky scorer with soft hands, was drafted 11th overall in 2012. He was Washington’s No. 2 prospect in Future Watch 2013 and No. 21 league-wide. Yet McPhee sent Forsberg away for an NHLer who, while plenty useful, still sought his first 60-point season at 31, plus a third-round checking forward in Latta.
It was hard not to view the trade as a coup for the Predators, who were out of the playoff race. Not that GM David Poile would admit it.

“It was not a good situation for us,” Poile said. Our team was not playing well. We had numerous injuries and Martin Erat asked to be traded.

“If we were going to trade Marty, we needed a big return, because in all likelihood, when you’re in that position, you’re going to get a young player or prospect or pick. In other words, you’re taking arguably our first-line winger off our team for something in the future. So it’s clearly a step backwards to hopefully someday go forward.”

Was Poile just playing diplomat to avoid burning a bridge with Washington? We’ll never know. What we do know is he’s singing a different tune today. The Predators got Forsberg, who averaged close to a point per game with Leksand of Sweden’s Allsvenskan, into their lineup for five games late in 2012-13 and he acquitted himself well. This September, he found chemistry on David Legwand’s wing in the pre-season and earned a top-six role. “My perspective today is we’ve had a good entry draft where we got Seth Jones as a No. 1 pick, we’ve got Filip Forsberg as a young up-and-coming forward, we signed some free agents,” Poile said. “There was a lot of pain to go through to get to this point and hopefully we’ll see some of the rewards of that pain.”

Forsberg took the stunning trade in stride last spring. He described the evening as stressful, as he learned of the deal from a friend who was reading Twitter and he got swarmed with phone calls from media. But he saw a silver lining because Nashville was a better fit for what he had to offer. “They don’t have a superstar on offense,” Forsberg said. “Nashville is more built the defensive way, with Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Their star players play in the defensive zone mostly. So hopefully I can become a future offensive player who can help the team score goals and win games.”

When Forsberg arrived, fellow Swede Patric Hornqvist and his wife took him in so he’d have a ride to practices and someone to show him around town. Forsberg said it was a huge help. He was leaving a comfortable life playing for a team near his hometown, hanging out with his friends and playing a lot of soccer and video games during downtime. And he admitted he’d miss his family dearly, as he’d lived with them his whole life.

But Forsberg is excited for the change – “sometimes, you have to go on your own and try your own way,” he said – and knows he has a lot of work to do. Scouts have always loved his hockey sense, goal scoring ability and two-way play, but he faces the same knocks many European forwards do upon crossing the pond. He must get physically stronger to handle the punishment NHL blueliners dole out and he must adjust to a smaller ice surface.

“The players are a little bit closer to you every time,” Forsberg said. “You’re always playing against someone and you don’t have any time at all. That’s a big adjustment I’ve got to get used to. Time will tell if I can do it and hopefully I can do it soon.”

Though, not surprisingly, he’s more worried about his short-term performance than Preds management is. “I don’t see any clear deficiency,” Poile said. “It’s a 19-year-old being able to play successfully in the NHL. That’s a tall order no matter how good you are. Not a lot of guys have successfully done that.

“We’re going to put him in a position to be successful. If that’s the beginning of this year, that’s great. If it’s not meant to be, we’ve got time. This is about his career, not just October.”

True to Poile’s philosophy, the Predators assigned Forsberg to Milwaukee of the American League in early November in hopes of building his confidence. Four games and six points later, he was back with the big club.

When Forsberg called the THN office one summer afternoon, his voice was surprisingly gruff and laced with stereotypical Swedish politeness. “Hi,” he said. “My name is Filip.”
It was likely the last time he’d ever need to introduce himself to a hockey reporter.

This feature originally appeared in the October 28 edition of The Hockey News magazine (the second-last paragraph is new). Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.