What’s Wrong With Filip Forsberg?

Filip Forsberg expected to hear his name called much earlier in the day.  According to the Central Scouting Service, the 17-year-old Swede was ranked as the No. 1 European skater in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.  He was projected to go as high as No. 2 overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Instead, when the draft rolled around last June he – somewhat shockingly to many draft experts – fell out of the top-10 completely and was selected by the Washington Capitals at No. 11.  At the time it seemed like a steal.

Most teams claim to draft the best player available regardless of organizational depth, and it seemed many teams could have used a prospect like Forsberg.  He’s big enough to play in North America (6-1 or 6-2, depending on the source), he’s known for his responsible two-way play, and he’s projected to be a point-producing forward at the NHL level.  For example, a team like Pittsburgh – who had the seventh pick and annually search for wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – seemed like a logical fit to draft the Swede.  So, why did Forsberg fall out of the top 10?

And why did the team that drafted Forsberg give up on him just nine months later?

In what was the final deal of the 2013 trade deadline, the Capitals flipped Filip to the Nashville Predators in exchange for winger Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta.  To say it was a surprising deal is an understatement.

For starters, Erat apparently requested a trade.  Not only is Erat having a down season offensively – only four goals, a minus-7 rating, and a scoreless drought that dated 21 games with Nashville – he also carries a cap hit of more than $4 million per season and had a no-movement clause worked into his contract.  So, it would be fair to assume that Nashville wasn’t exactly in the greatest bargaining position when it came to dealing Erat.

Secondly, Forsberg is considered one of the top prospects hockey.  Teams generally don’t go around trading those types of young players unless you are getting an All-Star caliber player or a “final piece” type of player in return.  No offense to the 31-year-old Erat, but I don’t think anyone in Nashville or Washington would put Erat in either of those categories at this point in his career.

So, after slipping down the draft board last summer and being traded after less than a year with the Capitals organization, the question needs to be asked: what’s wrong with Filip Forsberg?

On paper?  Nothing.  He’s ranked as a top-25 prospect by both The Hockey News (No. 21) and Hockey’s Future (No. 24). On the ice?  Nothing.  Forsberg was named the best under-20 player in the HockeyAllsvenskan league after posting 33 points and a plus-11 rating in 38 games.  Leadership or locker room concerns?  Unlikely.  He was captain of the Swedish World Junior Championship team, which won the silver medal this year.  Development concerns?  Though some have speculated about his foot speed, most scouting reports on Forsberg speak glowingly about his elite puck-handling skills, his creative offensive instincts, and his willingness to play two-way hockey.

One issue may have been his projections as a center vs. as a winger.  Personally, I think Forsberg projects better as a winger at the NHL level.  Several in the Washington organization were apparently concerned enough about his foot speed and his development as a center to sign off on putting the 18-year-old in a deadline deal.

Meanwhile in Nashville, the Predators continue tumbling down the standings while dealing with injuries (including an injury to this year’s top scorer, Colin Wilson), with the off-season departure of top pairing defensemen Ryan Suter, and now with the loss of last season’s leading scorer and alternate captain Martin Erat.  If the season ended today, the Predators would be selecting in the top-10 of the 2013 draft.

Forsberg jumps to the top of the Predators prospect pool and will be carefully developed in an organization that is lacking top-level forward prospects.  Nashville obviously thinks highly of Forsberg and even had him rated as a top-5 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.  Maybe Nashville is the right place for Forsberg to start his NHL career.

By the sound of it, if the Predators owned a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft we wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with him at all.