NASHVILLE — As a 19-year-old transitioning to his first season of playing professional hockey in North America, Filip Forsberg did not exactly have the word "easy" in his vocabulary.
In 12 games with the Nashville Predators, Forsberg, selected 11th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, tallied one goal and four assists with a minus-8 rating while averaging 11:41 in time on ice — essentially, fourth-line minutes. He had been a healthy scratch at times and missed a month with a concussion.
But when the Nashville Predators loaned him to the Swedish national team for the World Junior Championships, the competition was not quite the same. Forsberg was named the MVP of the tournament, as well as the best forward and an All-Star selection by media members. In helping to lead Sweden to a silver medal — the Swedes lost in overtime, 3-2, in the gold medal game to Finland — Forsberg totaled four goals, 12 points and a plus-3 rating.
Upon rejoining the Predators on Thursday, Forsberg told coach Barry Trotz that the competition at the World Junior was "easy."
"It’s pretty easy, actually, versus up here," was how Trotz quoted Forsberg. "We don’t want the young man to jump the Grand Canyon where sometimes we can maybe build a bridge."
Trotz was using a metaphor to describe how the organization wants to aid in the development of his young player. Not surprisingly, Forsberg used a different language with the media when he discussed the disparity in competition between the World Junior and the NHL.
"Obviously, all of the players are bigger and better over here, so that’s something that’s obviously going to be a huge transition coming back here," he said. "But I’m just going to try and play the same type of game that I’m playing there and it’s been pretty successful so far and, hopefully, I can have some success coming out here in the future."
Having acquired Forsberg last season from Washington for long-time veteran Martin Erat, who has again, as he did in Nashville, requested a trade, the Predators are going to be careful with what they see as a precious young asset. By design, the team added numerous veteran forwards in the offseason to create more competition on the roster. At times, that has made it difficult for the likes of Craig Smith, Viktor Stalberg and Gabriel Bourque to get in the lineup or to log the kind of ice time they probably would like.
So it also goes with Forsberg, who did not dress for Thursday’s game with Anaheim, though that was mostly because of his tiring travel schedule in returning from Sweden late on Wednesday. The Predators seem as if they want to get him in a game soon but, beyond that, Trotz made it sound as if they are going to be be careful with Forsberg.
Before going off to the World Junior, Forsberg spent some time with the Predators’ top minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee. If necessary, it sounds as if Forsberg could end up returning to the American Hockey League. Trotz said the decision over what to do with Forsberg would be a "thorough, thought-out process."
"The decision on Filip is about his career," Trotz said. "He’s got terrific hands. I think one of the things (he has struggled with) has been the pace. You want young players to have success. … If we can get him lots of ice time and lots of touches, then he’s in the lineup. If I can’t, we’ve got to do the right thing and put him in a position where he can succeed. Against his peers, you see he’s a really top-end player."
Forsberg, who, at 6-foot-1, 186 pounds, could probably get a little stronger and heavier, admitted that his inaugural North American foray has had its "ups and downs."
"Obviously, this is my first year here in North America and there’s a lot of things you need to get used to that I’m really trying to work hard on every day," he said. "Hopefully, this tournament can help me … going forward in my career."
Ups and downs is probably the best way to sum up Forsberg’s emotions over his team’s performance at the World Junior. While his personal achievements were considerable, the disappointment of coming so close and losing stung him and his teammates. He said that when he was presented with the tournament MVP trophy, he wasn’t happy but that, over time, he will grow to appreciate the honor.
Sweden hosted the tournament, which made losing taste even more bitter. Forsberg said that his countrymen were proud of his team’s performance, but this represented his final chance to win the tournament — he’ll be too old next year — and his only one with Sweden as the host country. During the tournament, he received texts of support from his Swedish teammates on the Predators like Stalberg, Patric Hornqvist and Mattias Ekholm.
Thankfully, he had yet to see teammate Pekka Rinne, a Finn whose nation and Sweden are archrivals. That led to a rare moment when Forsberg was at a loss for words when he was asked if losing to Finland made the defeat any harder.
After stumbling a bit, he said, "Well, it’s a huge rivalry, as you said. I guess it’s a little harder. But losing in the final, in overtime (is hard) no matter which team you’re playing."
Back in Nashville, he’ll have plenty of time to get over his disappointment and look forward to a new challenge. If does not meet with immediate success, then he could go to Milwaukee. Trotz said it’s important for young players to succeed — no matter where they are playing.