Monday, June 25, 2012

Forsberg: The name is the same, but only game changes

By Larry Wigge 

It finally was true: This is the place where you finally couldn't a player was still there in the draft for you to take.

But Filip Forsberg was still there for the Washington Capitals at No. 11 in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Three members of the Capitals scouting spent their alloted time trying to convince GM George McPhee that he had to go off the board and take the Swedish right winger. The team's plans all along was to take a defenseman -- thanks to a run on defenseman, eight of the top 10 and seven in a row.

But that rare gem just happened to win up unpicked ... and they had to take Forsberg.

"At the table the scouts were unanimous: 'We have to take this guy, he's a fantastic player,' " McPhee said. "I tried to give them other options to play devil's advocate with it but it was an easy one."

Eventually, McPhee couldn't hold off the three scouts. They selected the 6-1, 188 pound Forberg, who recorded eight goals and nine assists in 43 games with Leksand IF. Last season, Forsberg lit the lamp 21 times and added 19 assists in 36 games for his Leksand J20 squad. He also suited up for 10 games in the Swedish Elite League as a 16-year-old, potting one goal.

It got so ticklish that Commissioner Gary Bettman chimed in: "Washington, you're on the clock. Let's go."

Tick. Tock.

"We didn't expect Forsberg to be there at all," said McPhee, who added he received calls about trading the pick. In most mock drafts that we had done and where our scouts had him was way up high. Sometimes that happens, a good player falls because everybody's sort of zoned in on a certain guy and people were going after defensemen and we thought, 'Geez, we've got to switch gears here a little bit ... this guy's a really good player, let's take him.' "

The wait was a getting a little bit tedious for Forsberg as well. He was told he could go anywhere from second to five in most mock drafts.

"I would lie if I said I wasn't nervous. Yeah, I was pretty nervous. All of my family was there," said Forsberg. "I don't look at it as a disappointment at all because it's like a dream coming true being drafted. But ..."

Thinking out loud inside his brain he began to list all the stars on Washington's lineup -- Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner and Braden Holtby. Certainly he would fit that European flair of the Capitals lineup.

Washington knew Forsberg had a commitment for next year to play at Leksand. But, while some had likened his game to Brendan Shanahn -- power forward extraordinaire -- saying it was easier to compare him to a North American player rather than a European star.

"Hopefully I can make the team in some years. I'll be working hard to be a part of the Capitals' organization in the coming years," Forsberg explained. "I'm kind of big-size player and trying to play a bit physical and also taking the puck to the net as often as possible. I guess that's a bit more North American style of game than European. Hopefully I can bring that with me when the time is ready for me to come over."

One possible knock on Forsberg is that he not a compelling factor during Sweden's march to its first world junior hockey championship gold medal in 31 years, barely seeing any ice as the final vs. Russia unfolded. However, he was fewer than five months removed from his 17th birthday during the WJC, which is a skaters' tournament and 19-year-old event by and large. Forsberg's backers would point out he had more points than any other under-18 player in his league. He also thrived against players his own age at the IIHF U18 championship in April, captaining Sweden's silver-medalist team.

A Central Scouting Bureau comparison -- Anaheim's Corey Perry.

It went on the say, "Has a nose for the net and often scores the big goals. He's a creative playmaker, good skater with fine straight-ahead speed. He's a right-handed forward with an excellent shot and an effective two-way player with a great winning attitude. Filip's a solid puck carrier with very good puck-handling skills. Mature, good size and physically strong. On top of that, he'll sacrifice himself to make the play."

The Canadien coach Steve Sprott at the Ivan Hlinka tournament said, "We don't have anyone like Filip Forsberg."

Sprott had his top shutdown pair of defenseman plus forward Scott Laughton out there every time to check Forsberg.

"He's really mature," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg said. "I still can't believe he was born in '94. Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to your older brother.

"He has a unique attitude and character -- the self-confidence to look at himself from outside. The way he approaches the game is fantastic. It doesn't matter if we are here in the practice rink or we are playing Canada in Rexall -- he's the same kid, just competing, chasing the puck."

Forsberg is an offensively skilled forward first and foremost, but is extremely versatile as well. His relentless work ethic, fearless play and hockey IQ make him effective in all three zones. While he won't go out of his way to make a big hit, like Foppa, he is tough on the puck and embraces being engaged physically on the ice. He has the ability to create for himself offensively as well as delivering crisp and accurately delivered passes.

Although he is an agile and smooth skater, Forsberg himself recognizes he has to work on his first-step quickness and overall speed.

Of course Forsberg's name -- any relation to Peter Forsberg, champion with the Colorado Avalanche. But ...

Filip answers that his favorite player was -- "Peter Forsberg."

Foppa still stands out above all -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund or the Sedins twins.

And no, the kid is no kin. Not a son. Not a nephew. Not even a distant second cousin removed, remotely linked by some relative's wife's third marriage on the outskirts of Ostervala.

"Sorry," he confessed wearily. "Not at all."

Thanks for asking.

"Since I've come to this tournament," he sighed, "I've answered that question like, 10 times before.

"It's an honour to be compared to him."

If only by name?

"In some small way."

But as scouts and fans all around the NHL will learn, Filip Forsberg has skill and blood that beats in him like only the best.

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