2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Filip Forsberg, F, Leksands IF (SWE)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is forward Filip Forsberg, whom TSN’s Craig Button pegged for the Islanders in his mock draft. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

As the National Hockey League said farewell to another Swedish import – Nicklas Lidstrom – after 20 glorious seasons patrolling the blue line in Motown, the proverbial torch – draped in blue and yellow – has already been passed to a collection of Swedes, both young and old, who have and will continue to stamp their mark amongst the world’s elite.

Thirty-year-old Henrik Lundqvist has conquered Broadway and is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. Erik Karlsson, 22, has capitalized on his fame in Ottawa and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy. While twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, 31, have built the Vancouver Canucks into a Western Conference power – year-in and year-out – for the past 11 seasons.

Nevertheless, the league has grown leaps and bounds since the Quebec Nordiques selected Bromma-born forward Mats Sundin first overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.

Last season, Colorado Avalanche draftee Gabriel Landeskog – selected second overall to Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – was one of six Swedish born players picked in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Now, less than four days before a new crop of teenage hopefuls – from all across the world – embark on their hockey dreams, it is a 17-year-old power forward that has the Steel City buzzing. Born in Ostervala, Sweden, Filip Forsberg has gone from a precocious man of mystery to one whose confidence wowed all 30 NHL organizations at the recent NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.

“I think I am a great offensive hockey player,” said Forsberg, less than a month before he would win over a bevy of player personnel departments in Toronto. “I am pretty big and have got a good shot.

“I can also make plays for my teammates. That is my biggest strength in hockey.”

In his final draft rankings – posted on June 11 on TSN.CA – Craig Button has pegged the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Forsberg as his seventh best prospect in Friday’s NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. Yet, both the International Scouting Services and The Hockey News ranked Forsberg as its second best prospect – one spot below consensus top overall selectee Nail Yakupov of Sarnia (OHL). On Monday evening, TSN finalized its own draft rankings, naming Forsberg as its third best prospect. He placed behind both Yakupov and Everett (WHL) defenseman Ryan Murray.

Yet, undeterred by daily draft chatter, Forsberg has allowed his friends to be his eyes and ears of the NHL draft world.

“I have tried not to read that much,” said Forsberg, whose offensive skill-set has drawn comparisons to Anaheim’s Corey Perry. “But my friends are reading it, so they have told me the most of what’s on each draft list.

“I don’t want it to affect my play, because I try to play my own type of game.”

Precise shooting accuracy, physical prowess and an effortless skater are terms synonymous with Forsberg’s all-around make-up on the ice. Still, it wasn’t too long ago that the self-proclaimed video-game addict was unsure if playing professional hockey would actually be his calling.

“I was four years old the first time I was wearing skates,” recalled Forsberg. “I didn’t like it right at the first try because before I skated I was playing with the stick. I told my mom that she should take my skates off, so I could continue to play with the stick.”

Following in his father Patrik’s footsteps – a professional hockey player in his own right in both Sweden and Norway – Forsberg would jump back on the horse just two years later.

“I started playing hockey when I was six years old on a team in Norway, when my dad was playing there,” said Forsberg, who will turn 18 on August 13. “I really liked it right away.

“It was more than I expected.”

Less than six months later, after Forsberg’s father ended his 16-year professional career, the family settled in Leksand, Sweden. With a population of 5,861 (as of June 2012), Leksand is best known as the producer of traditional Swedish Crisp Bread. Still, the quaint community allowed the young Forsberg to hone his hockey skills.

“Leksand is a very small town, so except for hockey, there isn’t so many other sports to play,” said Forsberg. “I played soccer and a little baseball too, but hockey was always my favorite, so I decided quite early that it was my first choice.”

Forsberg would play regularly and continue to rise through the Leksand junior hockey program over the next few years, eventually splitting time with both the Leksand Under-16 program and the Under-18 program during the 2008-09 season.

He registered 17 points – 13 goals and four assists – in eight games for the Under-16 team, and would ultimately get the call up just a few months short of his 15th birthday. He wasn’t intimidated playing against guys two-to-three years older, as he recorded 21 points – 12 goals and nine assists – in 15 games.

Over his next two seasons, Forsberg raised the level of his play a few more notches, ultimately playing – as a 16-year-old – in the Leksand J20 SuperElit league. He led his team in scoring with 40 points – 21 goals and 19 assists – in 36 games.

That same season – 2010-11 – Forsberg was invited to play for Team Sweden in the 2011 Under-18 championships in Germany. Collecting six points – four goals and two assists – in six games, Forsberg helped the Swedes reach the Gold Medal game, but it would eventually drop a 4-3 overtime decision to the United States.

Forsberg, who would finish his 2010-11 league season by playing 10 games with Leksands IF – Leksand’s top professional team – in the Allsvenskan league, would return to IF for a full campaign this past season. In 43 games, he registered 17 points – eight goals and nine assists.
Earning a regular shift – as a 17-year-old – against players over twice his age would force Forsberg to hit the weight room as part of his off-ice training. Still, building too much muscle wasn’t his primary goal.

“If I keep working hard off the ice, I will definitely be stronger,” said Forsberg, who grew up idolizing fellow Swede and former Colorado Avalanche standout Peter Forsberg (no relation). “But I don’t want to put a lot of extra kilos right now.

“I want to keep my speed, while I get stronger.”

Internationally, Forsberg would compete in both the 2012 Under-20 World Junior Championships in Calgary, as well as the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic.

In Calgary, Forsberg would sit by and watch both Murray (Team Canada) and Yakupov (Team Russia) compete against one another in a tightly-contested semifinal tilt, eventually won by Russia, 6-5. The Russian victory set up a Gold Medal showdown with Forsberg and the Swedes, who bested Finland, 3-2 in their semifinal match-up.

Competing in front of a pro-Sweden crowd at the Saddledome, Forsberg’s teammate Mika Zibanejad – a 2011 first round selection by Ottawa – would break a scoreless tie by scoring an overtime winner on a partial break-away.

Playing in his first WJC Under-20 tournament, Forsberg would collect an assist in the team’s six tournament games.

In the Czech Republic, Forsberg would lead the Swedes with seven points – five goals and two assists – in six games, but for a second consecutive season the team got bounced by the United States in the Gold Medal game, 7-0.

Even now, as all the dust has settled on Forsberg’s four-year playing career – which has seen the now 17-year old play on 10 different teams throughout Sweden and the World’s stage – it has come the time for the cerebral Swede to make the ultimate decision on his future– National Hockey League or Swedish Elite League.

“Both the NHL and the SEL are very good leagues,” said Forsberg. “But the NHL is the best league in the world, so hopefully I will play there one day.

“Still, the SEL is a good step to take for me. Hopefully, my team – Leksands IF – can make the promotion to the SEL this year.”

With glaring needs on the blue line, if Forsberg is somehow sitting on the board when the Islanders are on the clock at the fourth pick, could the organization really pass on his skill-set?

Forsberg would relish at the chance to call Long Island home.

“The Islanders are a team with a lot of good young players,” said Forsberg. “The last years have been pretty tough for them, but these great young players are getting better and better.

“I think the Islanders have something good going on. It would be fun to be drafted by the Islanders, because they have a great history with a lot of Stanley Cups back in the days. And as I said, the Islanders seem to be on their way back to the top.”

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just three days away.