NASHVILLE — When Filip Forsberg arrived with the Nashville Predators last season, they were a drowning team.
The 18-year-old Swede played five games just to get his feet wet. The Predators had acquired him from Washington in exchange for wing Martin Erat, a player whom Nashville coach Barry Trotz called on Wednesday probably the organization’s top forward over the previous 10 years.
Unsatisfied with his role, Erat had asked for a trade. It was one of many unwelcome blows for the Predators in the forgettable lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. When Forsberg, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, arrived, Nashville was on its way to the fourth-worst record in the league.
Yet he also symbolized what the organization hoped would be a partial rebirth.
“One thing that’s great about I’ll say ‘The New NHL’ with the salary cap and all that is you can retool,” Trotz said. “You can have an off year like we did. We still had some good pieces but they were all hurt. We recognized that keep the good pieces and then add some good pieces and then we had to make some hard decisions.”
Trotz called the deal for Forsberg trading “for potential”.
“And it looks like it’ll probably work out, with Filip being a pretty good player,” Trotz said.
Forsberg scored his first goal of his career on Tuesday in a 3-2 win over Minnesota and, for now, the natural center has earned one of the team’s top offensive roles, skating as the right wing on a line with left wing Eric Nystrom and long-time veteran center David Legwand, the franchise’s all-time leader in most offensive categories. The goal came on a 5-on-3 situation, reserved for only a chosen few.
Forsberg, who is spoken about in reverential tones as having magic hands, looks like a much different player from the one who totaled one assist and a minus-1 rating in those five games at the end of last season when he was thrown into the fire, to use a cliché.
“Well, last year I was just getting right into it,” Forsberg said. “I was playing with my team back home. We had a great end of the season then I got thrown in here the day after I got here. I had to play. I was just trying to have as much fun as possible.
“Now it’s for real and it’s good to be in the lineup for the start of the season so I’ve been enjoying it so far and we can keep being successful.”
Making his first goal even more special for Forsberg was the fact that his parents flew in from Sweden and were in the stands at the time. They plan on staying with him for the entire six-game homestand. So far, his parents have not seen much of Nashville, just going with Filip to the mall while trying to recover from jet lag.
To his parents’ credit, Forsberg said they are attempting to speak English around town. Filip himself is quite fluent — but not so much in Southern English, which differs slightly from what Filip learned in school.
“Yeah, I know, it’s a bit different,” Forsberg said, “so I have to teach them that as well.”
One of two 19-year-olds on the team along with defenseman Seth Jones, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Forsberg nonetheless is living on his own — a testament to his maturity. Teammate and fellow Swede Mattias Ekholm, 23 and also a rookie, lives in the same apartment complex.
“So it’s nice,” Forsberg said. “We can walk up and down the stairs to each other’s place.”
Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for young players to live with an older teammate. When Swedish defenseman Tobias Enstrom, then a 23-year-old, broke into the NHL with Atlanta in 2007, the future all-star lived with older Swedish teammate Johan Hedberg. When Jeff Skinner won the 2011 Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) with Carolina, he roomed with goalie Justin Peters and, famously, future superstar Sidney Crosby, lived with Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux back in 2006.
Easing Forsberg’s transition to the NHL is that the Predators have three other Swedes on their roster. One of them, right wing Patric Hornqvist, now has a formal leadership role, as the Predators awarded him an “A” on his jersey signifying that he is an alternate captain just before the season started. During Forsberg’s brief time with the Predators last season, he stayed with Hornqvist.
“He was taking care of me,” Forsberg said. “… He’s been a good guy for me, getting to know the town and the team and he’s still giving me advice every day, things I can think about so he’s been really important.”
Trotz said one thing he believes has always ranked as a strength of the Predators’ organization is the ability to assess their weaknesses. While, at times, the Predators have iced strong offensive teams, often the franchise has worn the reputation for low-scoring. Last season, they earned it, as they finished as the NHL’s lowest-scoring team.
Forsberg is part of an effort to change that.
“I think we’re slightly different,” Trotz said. “The same good qualities with adding some of the qualities that people think we always lack. We’re starting to add those.”