SPORTS

Filip Forsberg blossoming into NHL star a big part of Predators' hot start

11/18/2014 03:08 EST | Updated 01/18/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - With every goal and assist, Filip Forsberg is helping the Nashville Predators continue their hot start, and making a 2013 deadline trade look more lopsided by the day.

The 20-year-old Forsberg is 10th in the NHL in scoring with 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists. He's a big reason why Nashville is pushing Chicago for first place in the Central Division more than a month into the season.

"We knew he was going to be good; I don't think we expected him to be this good this early," defenceman Ryan Ellis said. "He's got some unbelievable hands and his confidence is high right now, which goes a long way on the ice."

Confident but not cocky, Forsberg has grown physically and mentally from the player the Washington Capitals somewhat reluctantly drafted 11th overall in 2012. Projected to go in the top three, the Swedish forward with the slick skill slipped down the board.

Less than a year later, the Capitals wanted to make a push for the playoffs and traded Forsberg to the Predators for veteran winger Martin Erat and young grinder Michael Latta. Erat's role was minimalized in Washington last season — he asked for and got a trade to the Phoenix Coyotes — and Latta is a fourth-liner.

Forsberg struggled in his first long look in the NHL with the Predators and was sent to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. That was perhaps the best thing for him and the team.

"Everybody gets to the NHL when they're ready to get to the NHL, when they're good enough," general manager David Poile said. "We probably forced him. I think he was just too young. How many times do we need to realize that these guys really benefit from coming over to North America, going to Milwaukee, going through that process."

Forsberg knew of the Predators from Swedish star Peter Forsberg (no relation) playing for them several years ago and quickly learned that Nashville was famous for country music. He didn't plan to play in Milwaukee, but it worked out.

"You really learn what it takes to be a pro," Forsberg said. "I think I handled that pretty well."

Predators captain Shea Weber "could see that he has something there" when Forsberg was just breaking into the league. Weber noticed growth on Forsberg's part when he returned for training camp.

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

"Hopefully I've put on some muscle," he said.

He's noticeably bigger and stronger than he was at the draft or when he showed up in North America that summer for development camp.

He's also a crisper player. His skating is much improved and he has adjusted to the pace of the NHL.

"Hopefully I've become better at most stuff," Forsberg said. "I think I'm way stronger with the puck. I think that's kind of the key to my game. I'm a pretty big-sized guy, so I think if I can be strong on the puck I can be successful."

Forsberg credited linemates Mike Ribeiro and James Neal for his success this season. Several teammates pointed to him being a consistent performer.

"He's showing up every game and (putting in) good effort and can play both sides of the puck," Ribeiro said. "He's a deceiving shooter, too. He's mature for his age. He's a guy who gets prepared for games and wants to make a difference."

Consistency is a prerequisite playing for coach Peter Laviolette, who has been impressed by Forsberg since development camp.

"He's a good young player that's finding his way, he's done a nice job at the start of the season," Laviolette said.

With Forsberg leading the scoring charge, Weber on defence and Pekka Rinne in goal, the Predators are exceeding expectations in the first season under Laviolette. They're third in the league in goals against per game.

Ellis said while Barry Trotz — who moved on quickly to Washington — was a great coach, the Predators are benefiting from a change of scenery. Not only is Laviolette new, but Poile pointed out that Nashville has a handful of new forwards, including Ribeiro, Neal and Derek Roy.

Rinne being back after an injury and infection-plagued season helps, too.

"There's no question that psychologically you probably play a little bit different with Pekka in net than we did last year for 51 games that he wasn't there," Poile said. "It's a good difference and it's a big difference and it's one of the huge factors of why we're winning more games than we're losing right now."

Having Forsberg clicking like he has so far doesn't hurt. All the while, he keeps producing without much fanfare.

"He's very level-headed, he's very humble," Ellis said. "He's a lot of fun to be around. He's a simple kid and he's just kind of having a good time right now and enjoying the success. He's just going about his business and being successful."

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