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Forsberg, Sakic namesakes look to carve own niches

Wednesday, 10.05.2011 / 1:20 PM / Across the Pond

By Bill Meltzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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Forsberg, Sakic namesakes look to carve own niches
Filip Forsberg and Marko Sakic are no relation to their namesakes, but the youngsters would love to join them as NHL stars someday.
They are of no relation to their namesakes, each of whom enjoyed Hall of Fame-worthy careers as teammates with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche, but 2012 Entry Draft prospects Filip Forsberg and Marko Sakic both very much are aware of the curiosity their surnames create among hockey aficionados. The two 17-year-old forwards are trying to find their own places in the hockey world while avoiding the unfair pressure of being compared to Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

Of the two, Forsberg is more likely to play in the NHL someday. The left wing for Leksands IF is projected as a first-round pick in this year's draft. Sakic, meanwhile, could be a late-round selection. The ceiling of Sakic's potential may be lower, but his dreams equally are lofty for a player of his hockey background.

Forsberg has been on the NHL draft fast-track for several seasons. He is a regular starter for his team in Allsvenskan (Sweden's top minor league) and a key player on Sweden's national Under-18 squad. The right-shooting forward measures in at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, and should be able to add muscle to his frame.

"Filip is a young player but he is very mature in a lot of aspects of his game. In terms of the way that he reads and reacts to plays, he is advanced. He has size and skills, but it's more important to know how to use those talents. Of course, he also still has to gain more experience." -- Leksand coach Christer Olsson

Forsberg excels at protecting the puck, has exceptional hockey sense for a player his age and naturally soft hands than enable him to finish scoring chances. In terms of its pure velocity, Forsberg's shot has been likened to that of the now-retired Freddy Modin.

"Filip is a young player but he is very mature in a lot of aspects of his game," said Leksand coach Christer Olsson, a former NHL defenseman with the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators. "In terms of the way that he reads and reacts to plays, he is advanced. He has size and skills, but it's more important to know how to use those talents. Of course, he also still has to gain more experience."

Forsberg is off to a bit of a slow start this season, going scoreless in his first six games (he had 1 goal in 10 Allsvenskan games last season) and is aiming to gain more ice time. However, he has been a dominant player at the domestic and international junior levels.

Forsberg was a key contributor to Sweden's silver medal at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship, totaling 4 goals and 6 points in 6 games. Playing in Sweden's J20 SuperElit league last season, he had 21 goals and 19 assists in 36 games. 

Meanwhile, Sakic, a native of Zagreb, Croatia, has grown used to being the biggest fish in a tiny pond, as Croatia's hockey community consists of just 437 registered players. Sakic took up the sport at age 4, with the HK Zagreb youth hockey program (considered the best in the country), and rocketed through various clubs in different age groups, typically playing with and against players who were several years older. By the time he was 15, he realized the time had come to move to a place where he could play against a higher grade of competition. That meant leaving home.

"Conditions in Croatian hockey are very bad," Sakic said. "We lack ice rinks, educated coaches, enough clubs (to form competitive leagues), and, of course, we don't play enough games through the course of the season. So it was time to move on. Along with my parents, I made the decision to leave Croatia and my mother club to go abroad."

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Sakic participated in training camps with the top junior teams of Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic (a prestigious program that has helped produce a host of NHL players) and the Zurich Lions in Switzerland. Both programs offered Sakic places on their roster, but he had to decline the offer in Switzerland while the Czech team's interest cooled for other reasons.

"In Switzerland, there was a problem about going to school there, because it's very expensive," Sakic said. "In the Czech Republic, they've introduced a new rule where clubs have to pay money for each foreign U20 player they carry."

As a result of these issues, Sakic joined the junior program of KAC Klagenfurt, a traditional powerhouse in Austrian hockey, but far from a prominent place to showcase skills to scouts or receive elite-level coaching (at least beneath the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga level). Nevertheless, there are some hockey and personal benefits to playing in Austria.

"There is a lot more ice time here in Austria," he said. "We have video analysis of games, and the club pays for everything for us. That wasn't the case in Zagreb. Also, Klagenfurt is just a three-hour ride from Zagreb, so I get to see my family even though I live out of the country now. That means a lot to me."

Sakic played for Croatia at the 2011 Division I World Junior Championship, where he had a goal and an assist in five games.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound forward is practical enough to realize that selection by an NHL team is a longshot for him. Nevertheless, he has set the ambitious goals of playing professionally at least in an elite European league, as well as helping Croatia climb a rung or two on the international hockey ladder.

"When you are born in Sweden or Finland, your ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL," he said. "But for players from a little hockey country like Croatia, to become a professional is still a very good accomplishment. I would love to at least play in (Germany's) DEL or Scandinavia one day, but it is still long way ahead of me, too."
Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

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