May 31, 2012
TORONTO — Whether Filip Forsberg is still on the board when the teams from Canada's two largest NHL markets make their first picks on June 22 remains to be seen. Should that come to pass, though, Europe's top-ranked prospect is ready for his close-up.
The rangy winger was completely in his element Thursday afternoon at the NHL scouting combine, where he was the only of the six prospects at a supper-hour press conference who played outside North America this season. That easy facility was a lot like the smoothness he's conveyed in his native Sweden across the past few years — even though there probably weren't such large media scrums after his games with Leksands IF in the Allsvenskan, his nation's second-tier league.
"I just try to enjoy this as much as possible," Forsberg said when asked about the spectre of being taken No. 3 overall by the Montreal Canadiens or No. 5 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. "It's not what you're used to back home in Sweden, all this media stuff, but I like it. Hopefully it's a part of your coming life, so you have to enjoy it. It would be a difference even though I live in a pretty crazy hockey town in Leksands. It would be hard for them to come up to the standard here in Toronto, because it's such a hockey culture here.
"I have to be myself, because that's why I'm here. I know I'm a good player, but I want to show I'm a good person."
Forsberg, who had 17 points in 43 games for Leksands, projects to be a future scoring winger, which might explain why the Columbus Blue Jackets might consider taking him No. 2 overall as a possible replacement for free agent to be Rick Nash. He possesses straight-line speed, but as so often is the case for European prospects, he will have to learn to cut and manoeuvre on the more compact North American ice surface.
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-medallist team.
Apparently he also likes to keep the mood light, although not when he's doing combine interviews with NHL teams.
"They heard I liked to pull jokes so I got asked to do a joke right on the spot," Forsberg said when asked Thursday if he was blindsided by any odd queries while interviewing with teams. "I didn't have one but I got saved by another guy who was asking a new question."
1. How did you assess your second half of the season, after you rejoined Leksands following the world junior?
"I think I stepped up and played much better in the second half of the season, compared to the first part. I'm pretty happy with my second half of the season."
2. What are the greatest assets you bring to a team?
"I would say I'm an offensive, skilled player, pretty good size and strong hands. I like to use these tools to create as much scoring opportunities for me and the players that I play with."
3. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest skill that you must improve between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"My skating especially. If I have a greater top speed that will help me improve a lot as a player."
4. Were you surprised by Nicklas Lidström's announcement that he's retiring?
"Yes, because I was hoping he would play another year. Everything comes to end sometimes and unfortunately it was Nik's time to retire. He's maybe the greatest player we [Sweden] have ever had, so it's a sad day for hockey."
5. What do you remember about Team Sweden's celebration after you returned from winning the world junior gold medal in January?
"It was a pretty big celebration back home. We were taken to meet the royal family, the princess [Princess Victoria] and prince [Prince Daniel]. We got to celebrate right in Stockholm. It was a pretty big day."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).