NASHVILLE -- For all of the Nashville Predators fans concerned about the development of Filip Forsberg, it's worth keeping in mind that he's 19 years old.
Perhaps because the Predators have struggled for offense in recent seasons and because Forsberg was drafted high in the first round and was acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat, a player who averaged 53 points for the Predators for seven consecutive seasons, the weight of heavy expectations has fallen upon Forsberg.
He has plenty of time to live up to them, but as with all players he needs to be given time to develop.
"Obviously it's a long journey," Forsberg said during the Predators' prospect development camp. "I'm still a pretty young kid so hopefully … my time is coming this year."
One comparison that could help to illustrate Forsberg's situation is that of Carolina Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty, who was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the 13th pick of the 2006 NHL Draft (Forsberg was drafted by Washington with the 11th pick in 2012). Tlusty scored 10 goals in 58 games in 2007-08 with Toronto as a 19- and 20-year-old rookie, but then none in 14 games in his second season and one in 20 games in his third, split between Toronto and Carolina.
By showing patience with Tlusty, Carolina reaped the benefits. He scored 17 goals in 79 games in 2011-12 and 23 in 48 games in 2012-13, which tied for the fifth in the NHL that season.
The good news for the 6-foot-1, 186-pound Forsberg is that he appears to have the mental maturity necessary to succeed. The question, perhaps, is his physical side; he missed five weeks in November and December with a concussion. When he returned, though, he was back to his old self, helping Sweden win the silver medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He was second among all players in scoring with 12 points in seven games and was named the tournament's top forward and most valuable player.
Forsberg started last season with the Predators, but had one goal and four assists in 12 games and was sent to the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League in November and remained there until a one-game return in March.
Predators general manager David Poile said in hindsight he's not sure if Forsberg was NHL-ready at the start of last season.
"You just wonder whether it was really the right time," he said. "Now we're a year later and he's got some experience under his belt, both here in Nashville and in Milwaukee, and a fabulous experience at the World Junior where he was the MVP and the hope would be that he has taken that step both physically and mentally and in his preparedness and his knowledge of what it's going to take so that he can even play here.
"Like I say about any younger player, what we like and we can get as far as timing often don't match up. But we like him. He's going to be really good either here or down there [AHL] knocking on the door to play for sure."
In discussing what the Predators' forward lines could look like in 2014-15, Poile said a great degree of uncertainty exists and called it "a work in progress." Top center Mike Fisher will be out until at least November after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Free agent center Olli Jokinen was signed July 2 and James Neal was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
A major variable is the introduction of new coach Peter Laviolette. Matt Cullen, who finished last season as a productive left wing, will get a try at center under Laviolette; Cullen enjoyed the most successful seasons of his career when they were with Carolina. Colin Wilson will also compete for a spot at center.
Poile said he expects Neal, a first-team NHL All-Star in 2011-12 at right wing, to shift to left wing. Craig Smith, coming off a career season with 24 goals and 28 assists, will resume his spot at right wing.
Another major question mark is right wing Viktor Stalberg, who scored eight goals in 70 games last season after the Predators signed him to a four-year, $12-million contract. Stalberg had 22 goals in 2011-12 for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Asked where he sees Stalberg fitting in, Poile said that it's the "$64,000 question."
"He's got to come back and have a rebound year," Poile said. "He knows it was no good. He's heard it from us. He knows himself. All of the reasons, excuses, are out there: Winning the [Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013], short season, from not getting an opportunity with the last coach [Barry Trotz], got hurt. Now we've got a new coach. … We were extremely disappointed, he was extremely disappointed. Do I think he's going to have a better year? Absolutely. What level that's going to mean? I hope it exceeds my expectations."
Forsberg, who plays mostly right wing but has logged some time on the left, seemingly best fits in a top-six role. That could put Forsberg and Stalberg in competition for the same spot.
"I think Peter is going to do a lot of experimentation at training camp," Poile said. "I don't see why he [Stalberg] couldn't [play left wing]. It might be more of an advantage to him. These are the types of things we've talked about. Especially with the forwards, we're going to have to do a lot of juggling to see where the chemistry lies."
Forsberg said he has no issue playing left wing, and in terms of chemistry said he developed some late last season while playing with Calle Jarnkrok in Milwaukee. Jarnkrok was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for long-time Predators forward David Legwand and should be one of Nashville's top two centers.
Forsberg said Milwaukee iced an all-Swedish line comprised of himself on the left, Jarnkrok in the middle and Patrick Cehlin on the right.
"I've been kind of switching all over the place," Forsberg said. "It was good, especially last year we had a pretty tough situation on both wings. It's great to be able to play on both sides. It makes it way easier to earn a spot on the team."
Forsberg said he wants to prove himself to Laviolette in training camp and that his goal is greater consistency. He has accomplished that at other levels; now he just needs to do it in the NHL. He had 15 goals and 19 assists in 47 regular-season games with Milwaukee last season and one goal and one assist in three AHL playoff games.
He said he wants to produce "in almost every game."
"That's the type of player I am," he said, "and that’s the type of thing I think I can do in this League too."
Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent
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