Monday, February 29, 2016

For Peter sake ... here's Filip Forsberg

By Larry Wigge

I wonder what everyone in the NHL was thinking when they allowed a talent such as Filip Forsberg slip to the eleventh pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft?

No offense, but no one had the skill-set that Forsberg had after he captained the Sweden's entry to the gold medal in the 2013 World Junior Championship -- not even Neil Yakupov or Ryan Murray, the No. 1 and No. 2 pick overall of the 2012 draft.

Listen to this:

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

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.' "

So then why pray tell would the Caps give up on such a high prospect after just one year, moving him at the NHL trading deadline for veteran winger Martin Erat and Michael Latta, both journeymen?

Fans love trades, but no one wants to be on the losing side -- even if the deal is just for a prospect. Trades that backfire, flop, bomb out and can be disastrous.

"If you get traded, there's two ways you can look at it," Forsberg said. "Either that one team doesn't want you or the other team really wants you. I just decided to look at Nashville really wanted me, tried to be as good as I can for Nashville."

Let's draw the comparisons ...

Erat has scored 163 goals in 11-plus seasons in Nashville, but in two seasons after his trade his combined for two goals with the Capitals in 62 games.

Heck ... Forsberg has two hat tricks in his last three games, giving him 26 goals and 20 assists in 63 games this season -- matching 26 goals and 37 assists as a rookie in 2014-15.

Furthermore, Forsberg is the first NHL player to record two natural hat tricks within a three-game span -- against Toronto and St. Louis -- in one season since November 18-21, 1986, when Vancouver's Petri Skriko did so in two games. He is the first NHL player with multiple natural hat tricks in one season since Thomas Vanek had three for Buffalo in 2007-08.

The 6-1, 186-pounder finished the month of February with a total of 12 goals in 13 games for the Predators. With the first four-point game of his career, Forsberg has 16 points in 13 games in February.

Now, he must look like the No. 1 overall pick from 2012.

"When he plays with a pace and he does things fast with the puck, he becomes really difficult to defend," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's got a lot of confidence. He's in a stretch right now where he's playing really good hockey."

Ironically, Barry Trotz, formerly the Preds coach, now is in Washington.

"His skills are off the charts in terms of scoring," Trotz said. "He's got that knack. I'm really happy for him. He looks more mature. That one extra year for players, that rookie year and that extra year, is so important for the growth of a young player."

Some of the most famous trades in sports involve:

-- Boston traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.

-- The Broncos traded the right of John Elway to the Colts for  offensive tackle Chris Hinton and a first-round pick in the 1984 draft, which ended up being guard Ron Solt.

-- On December 10, 1971, the Mets traded Nolan Ryan with pitcher Don Rose, outfielder Leroy Stanton and catcher Francisco Estrada to California in exchange for shortstop Jim Fregosi.

-- The Colts trade Marshall Faulk to Rams for second- and fifth-round picks in 1999 draft.

-- The Canucks trade Cam Neely to Bruins with a No. 1 pick (Glen Wesley) for center Barry Pederson in 1986.

-- Cubs trade a promising Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth to Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens in 1964.

-- The St. Louis Hawks trading prospect Bill Russell to Boston for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan in 1956.

Somewhere down the road we might have to add Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta high on that list.

"Filip is a blend of high end skill and indomitable will. Skill that allows him to produce offensively and a will that makes it very challenging for opponents to stop him," said TSN scout Craig Button. "His shot is hard and accurate and he can score from 35-40 feet. His release is outstanding which doesn't allow goalies to get an accurate read on it. He can shoot off the pass as well as being able to shoot in stride. He recognizes opportunities and he has a hunger to score. With a playmaking center, he could be a prolific scorer in the NHL."

Enter Mike Ribeiro and James Neal as linemates in Nashville.

"I think deceiving shot," Ribeiro said. "He shoots in stride too. Good whip of the wrist. You don't really know where he's going with it. It's pretty hard to defend."

Forsberg spent the past two summers home in Sweden working out.

"You could see that he has something to prove," said Preds captain Shea Weber.

At the time of the trade, Preds GM David Poile said, "It was imperative that we add a potentially dynamic offensive forward such as Forsberg ..."

Poile looks at Forsberg and sees stardom.

"He seems to be very grounded," Poile said. "He seems to be very focused. I think that shows in his play. We're always looking for that consistency, whether you're a young player or an old player. It's usually harder to get in younger players. Filip has been pretty consistent in his first two years with us."

He was so grounded on draft day in 2012. The wait was a getting a little bit tedious for Forsberg. 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 ..."

His father, Patrik, a former player, has been the biggest influence on his career.

"He has taught me a lot as a father and as a coach," said Filip.

While growing up in Ostervala, Sweden, he had plenty of favorites he could watch -- the Sedins or Mats Sundin or Markus Naslund or Henrik Zetterberg.

He chose ...

"Peter Forsberg," he said, excitedly -- referring to the longtime center who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalache.

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 the NHL," 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."

Someone who had plenty of battle with Peter Forsberg and Filip Forsberg, defenseman Barret Jackman likes to pump up the youngster.

During his years playing for the St. Louis Blues, Jackman says, "It doesn't seem like he gets rattled at anything. I think when Weber got hurt in the playoffs, he really stepped up and showed a lot of the potential that everybody saw in him. You look for him to only grow as a player ... and eventually he'll be one of the top forwards in the league."

Now, that you've been introduced to Filip Forsberg maybe you'll agree that he should have been the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.

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