Photo credit: Chris Gordon
When the Washington Capitals let Alex Semin walk last summer, they left a big hole in their top six. That hole has not been permanently filled yet, but there are two talented draft picks who might be a good fit in the future: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Filip Forsberg.
While Kuznetsov is still more than a full season away, Forsberg could be donning a Washington Capitals or Hershey Bears jersey as soon as this year.
A few weeks ago, when restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames, it almost set off a bizarre series of events, revealing how convoluted the NHL’s waiver process is. Since O’Reilly played two games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk after the NHL lockout had ended, the 22-year-old center would have had to go through waivers before joining the Flames. Instead, the Avalanche matched Calgary’s offer sheet and he immediately joined the team.
Forsberg’s situation is much different.
While the 18-year-old Swedish prospect played in 38 games for Leksands IF of the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan league (half of which played during the NHL season), a Capitals spokesman confirmed he is eligible to come over this year because of something called a European Loan.
“Forsberg is under NHL contract and on assignment to his Swedish team,” the spokesman said. “He is eligible to come over mid-season to play for Capitals or Bears sometime after his season is over in April.”
The three-year entry-level contract that Forsberg signed with the Capitals during Development Camp in July put the Capitals in the driver’s seat regarding when he’d start his professional career in North America. Once Leksands IF’s participation in the Kvalserien ends in a few weeks (a ten game round-robin tournament which determines which teams play in the Elitserien), it’s decision time for George McPhee.
The Capitals could opt for Forsberg to stay at home, rest, and prepare for his second Caps development camp in July. They could also have him join the AHL’s Hershey Bears, a move once made for John Carlson. On November 13, 2008, Carlson signed his ELC and then was loaned to Dale Hunter’s London Knights. Following the OHL playoffs, Carlson joined Hershey during their playoff run and played in 16 games. Because he was in the minors, Carlson did not lose the first year of his entry-level contract.
McPhee also could have Forsberg join the Capitals. While Washington’s roster is cramped right now, the NHL trade deadline is coming on April 5. A transaction before then could open up a spot for the young Swede on the roster. Forsberg can play in only five games — including the playoffs — before burning a year of his entry-level deal, which is exactly what happened with Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers last season. While Forsberg could gain some invaluable experience with the team during their march towards the playoffs, it’d be a waste of his cheap entry-level deal.
This is a big decision for McPhee. Forsberg, who was named the HockeyAllsvenskan’s best under-20 player of the year and an All-Star at the 2013 World Junior Championships, is a very talented forward. His development — along with Kuznetsov’s — could make or break a Capitals’ Stanley Cup run.
Forsberg’s forechecking and defense is what makes him stepping into the NHL as a teenager a possibility. During Development Camp last summer, Forsberg blocked two shots during the final scrimmage of the week, impressing his coaches.
“After seeing him at Development Camp and World Juniors as well, I think he’s a pretty complete player,” Hershey Bears head coach Mark French told me on a phone call last month. “A lot of the Swedish players seem to be pretty well-rounded.
“I think he has tremendous upside as a two-way guy. You see his god-given skill that he has. He has the ability to make big plays with the puck at high speeds every time he’s on the ice. If it’s a physical game or he needs to play defensively, he seems to be able to answer the bell. I’m not sure we’ll ever get the chance to coach him here [in Hershey]. He looks like he’s pretty NHL ready.”
He’s not the only guy who believes in him.
“Foppa (Filip Forsberg) is probably the most skilled player I’ve ever played with and ever will play with” – Michael Raffl
— Jonathan Larsson (@JLarsson6) March 21, 2013
Michael Raffl is Forsberg’s teammate on Leksands.
Additional reporting by Fedor Fedin.