Being the two best Scandinavians available in the 2012 draft has its privileges. Aside from the obvious hype and what promises to be a high selection in 11 months, Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta and Swedish left winger Filip Forsberg are getting a taste of the sweet life. In fact, they were out for ice cream in Los Angeles when I got them on the phone Wednesday night.
The two youngsters are in California with their agency, CAA, which has an annual camp for its prospects that includes on-ice testing and tutelage, as well as off-ice fun. The lineup in L.A. this year also includes 2013 phenoms Nathan MacKinnon, Max Domi and Seth Jones.
“It’s a huge city, so many people,” Maatta said. “I think it’s beautiful. Yesterday we were in Hollywood and it was amazing.”
Maatta is coming off a breakout performance at the world under-18s, where he logged major minutes for the Finns and played in all situations. At 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, he has great size and was named one of Finland’s top three players at the tourney by the international coaches, despite being one of the youngest on the squad.
“It was a good experience for me,” Maatta said. “Playing the U.S. and Canada, I got to see what North American hockey is.”
Which is important, because Maatta’s next destination is the Ontario League’s London Knights. The perennial powerhouse had an off-year, but with Maatta added to a defense corps returning Montreal first-rounder Jarred Tinordi and 2011 Pittsburgh draftee Scott Harrington (not to mention Domi, who is set to be traded from Kingston later this summer), the Knights will once again be dangerous.
“I’ve heard everything good about that place,” Maatta said. “It’s one of the best organizations in junior hockey and has one of the best coaching staffs.”
Maatta prides himself on his defensive play and would like to work on his offensive game and skating, though Forsberg, who has played Maatta twice in international tournaments, said the big Finn is doing pretty well already.
“He’s a very good defender,” Forsberg said. “He’s mobile and a great puck carrier.”
And when it comes to the puck, Forsberg himself is no slouch. In fact, he’s downright terrifying. The Swedish winger, who will play for Leksand’s top team in 2011-12, also had a breakthrough under-18s, putting up six points in six games and not surrendering a 5-on-5 goal when he was on the ice.
“It was a really nice tournament,” Forsberg said. “Lots of tough games, good games; I will take a lot from that. It’s just too bad we didn’t win the gold (Sweden lost to the U.S. in the final).”
His play was noticeable to his opponents, too.
“Filip is a very good player,” Maatta said. “You never know what he’s going to do next.”
As a 16-year-old on Leksand’s under-20 team this past season, Forsberg led his squad in scoring with 14 goals and 29 points in 26 games, adding a plus-19 rating for good measure. His point total was also good for fifth in the league. Though he’s no relation to NHL great Peter Forsberg, Filip is a huge fan of ‘Foppa’ and still watches his videos on YouTube. With Filip’s skill, it won’t be long before he makes a name for himself in the NHL.
“I think I’m a great goal-scorer,” Forsberg said. “Great shot, great playmaker…I work hard every day. Especially I would like my skating to get better and the big picture can always be improved.”
Both Maatta and Forsberg will have a chance to grab more international spotlight at the world juniors in Alberta this winter, but for now they’re soaking in a much more sunny North American experience in L.A.
You know, where the stars come from.
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- Peter Forsberg