In hockey, there is a twisted kind of satisfaction that comes when one competitor outperforms another in extravagant fashion. For example, a winger victimizing a defenseman with a deke; or a goalie flashes the glove to rob a one-timer. A big hit, a between-the-legs score, a right hook to the jaw. All require both a victor and a victim.
For the Nashville Predators franchise, the most satisfying moment of lopsided competition was off the ice. In the spring of 2013, GM David Poile traded aging perennial 50-point man Martin Erat along with forward Michael Latta to the Washington Capitals for prospect Filip Forsberg, 2012’s 11th overall draft selection.
Fast forward to 2017, and Erat hasn’t seen NHL action in two years. Latta is tucked away in the AHL. Forsberg is fresh off a two-goal performance, grabbing the game-winner in his team’s 4-2 victory over the Western Conference leading Minnesota Wild.
Filip Forsberg’s 5 GWG in January are a Predators record for a calendar month. The previous record of 4 was originally set by…Martin Erat.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 23, 2017
The acquisition of Forsberg has already proven to be a franchise-altering move, as the now 22-year-old has led the Predators in scoring in each of his first two years, landing north of the 60-point mark in both campaigns.
Poile took care to cement the spoils of his robbery, locking up the young scorer’s services with a six-year, $36 million deal this past offseason. The move was huge for a franchise long starved of talent at the wing positions, and Forsberg has already demonstrated a direct cause/effect relationship between his scoring and the team’s success.
With a roster that holsters only one other raw goal-scoring talent in James Neal, it’s no surprise that the Nashville Predators’ ability to win hinges upon Forsberg’s ability to put the puck in the net.
During the 2015-16 season, the sophomore sniper scraped together 11 goals through the first 41 games as the Predators meandered their way to a 19-15-7 record. With the kicking into emergency gear, Forsberg doubled his first-half goal total down the back stretch, tying a franchise record with 33 goals on the season.
The Predators, in tune with the fired up Forsberg, finished the year 41-27-14, and had their most successful postseason ever, pushing their second-round contest to Game 7 before being eliminated.
The trajectory of the 2016-17 campaign has been eerily similar. Forsberg marked only 9 goals across the first 41 games, and the team was sitting at a familiarly underwhelming 18-16-7.
Activate the midpoint emergency switch, and suddenly Forsberg has exploded with five goals and six points in the past six games, shouldering his team to a 5-1-0 record during that span. To pinpoint the importance of his role, the Swedish sniper registered the game-winning goal in four of those five victories.
The resurgence was sparked in time for the Predators to earn a 4-1-0 record across an expansive five-game road trip, bringing the team’s overall standing to 23-17-7. The pocketed points moved a team hovering just outside the playoff bubble into the third-place slot in the Central Division.
Now with 14 goals and 31 points on the year, Forsberg has tapped into his late-blooming charge towards another 60 point season – though he makes an interesting job out of predicting year-end totals.
Through 41 games last season, Forsberg’s 11 goals and 16 assists put him on pace for a 22-goal, 54 point campaign. He finished with 33 goals and 64 points, playing in all 82 contests.
This year, the winger’s performance has been slightly below identical, with 9 goals and 16 assists through 41 games. Already shredding the net with pucks only six games beyond the halfway point, it’s not crazy to think the 60-point mark is again in sight– and with it, the Nashville Predators should be sailing the seas of the postseason.
In a jam? Try this. https://t.co/KCY4tcIFSX
— NHL (@NHL) April 6, 2016
Equally important to team success has been Forsberg’s ability to stay healthy on a roster struggling with injuries. He’s one of only four skaters to appear in every game for the Predators this season (Mattias Ekholm, Calle Jarnkrok, and linemate Ryan Johansen being the others), and a vacancy in his role as a top-line winger would put Music City’s hockey team in a dire situation.
If the still-developing 22-year-old manages to harness his elite ability into a full season of high-end production, the numbers suggest Forsberg is a 40 goal, 70 point kind of guy. That makes him a caliber of forward that the Nashville Predators have never had, and thus the kind of guy who can lead the franchise to heights they’ve yet to reach.