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Predators' Forsberg blossoming into dynamic star

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com

NASHVILLE -- Rookie forward Filip Forsberg is off to a great start this season for the Nashville Predators and has solidified himself as an early favorite for the Calder Trophy.

Forsberg spent some time with the Predators in each of the past two seasons, playing five games in the 2012-13 season after being traded from the Washington Capitals and playing 13 games in 2013-14. He wasn't able to consistently find a way to produce at the NHL level.

Nashville made the decision to send Forsberg to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League to give him more playing time and the opportunity to develop his two-way game. Forsberg credits his time in Milwaukee as a big factor in the success he's had this season.

"I got to play a lot of games," said Forsberg, who leads all NHL rookies with 22 points and is tied for the lead with nine goals. "We played a lot of [three games in three nights] and you really get a feeling of what it takes to be successful every night. I think that's the most important part of the success I've had so far."

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Forsberg looked like a totally different player for the Predators in training camp this season. He was bigger, faster and seemed to be more confident.

"I was coming in last year to make the team out of camp and that was the same mindset I had this year, but obviously it's a new year and I've got a lot of things learned last year in Milwaukee," Forsberg said. "I've got a little feeling for it here too, so I feel more confident and more comfortable."

Forsberg's offensive talent has always been evident in his game. That's why Washington selected him with the No. 11 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Even in his brief stretches in Nashville the past two seasons, Forsberg showed flashes of the type of playmaker he could be offensively.

This season, Forsberg has taken that talent and has been able to find a way to consistently put it on display. Forsberg has been arguably the best player for the Predators, and his teammates have noticed a difference in him as opposed to what they saw the past two seasons.

"I just think he's more mature, and it seems like physically he's filled out a little bit," Predators forward Eric Nystrom said. "Obviously he's got some confidence, which is huge for any hockey player. He's got his feet in the water now, he's not just sticking a toe in. He's fully committed and he knows what to expect and he knows what's expected of him."

During the summer, Forsberg went home to Sweden to work out with his former team in his hometown of Leksand. He put on weight during that time, and his size difference has been noticeable in his play this season. Forsberg is much stronger battling for loose pucks and playing along the boards than he was in previous seasons.

"That's a big part of the game," Forsberg said. "That's something that I wasn't really good at when I first got here, but I think it's getting better and better for every game and every practice. I'm a pretty big guy, so if I can be strong on the walls that could be a big part of my game for sure."

Another big change came when Nashville decided to part ways with longtime coach Barry Trotz and bring in Peter Laviolette. Forsberg says Laviolette's style of constantly wanting to be on the attack better suits his game.

"We want to play offense," Forsberg said. "We want to go attack. As soon as they get the puck, we want to take it back and go on offense, and that's exactly how I want to play. We have a lot of offensive guys on our team, so I think it suits them pretty well."

That doesn't mean Laviolette and his staff want Forsberg not to worry about playing defense. They are constantly working with him to improve his defensive game, which wasn't a strong point when Forsberg was sent to Milwaukee last season.

"I think he's learning the game," Laviolette said. "I think he's done a good job. They often play against some high-end players, and I think he's done a good job defensively. His two-way game has been good, but we're teaching him and showing him things that we see. You get the coaches walking around with iPads and constantly trying to work with him and develop his game at both ends of the ice."

Forsberg has been on a line with veteran forwards Mike Ribeiro and James Neal for the majority of the season. That trio forms a legitimate top line that Nashville has not had for several years.

"He's been great," Neal said. "He's a young guy with a ton of skill, and he's starting to come into his own. It's early, but I love the way he comes to work every day. He's getting better every day, so it's great for our team."

Neal and Ribeiro have both been highly-skilled offensive players in their careers, which seems to make them a perfect pair from which Forsberg can learn.

Filip Forsberg
Center - NSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 63 | +/-: 18
"It's been great," Forsberg said. "They're two really experienced guys that have been in the League for a long time for a reason. They're two tremendous hockey players. I just try to learn as much as I can from them."

Forsberg leads the Predators in points and is tied for the team lead in goals with Neal. It's been an incredible start to the season for Forsberg, and his teammates want to see him remain consistent.

"I just tell him to keep his foot on the gas pedal," Nystrom said. "He's playing so well. Shoot the puck. He's got that release, and when he's shooting the puck he's so dangerous. I just keep telling him to shoot it and get in there and keep playing the way he is. That's what you have to do is keep lifting him up and keep him positive. There's a lot of positives to tell him. He's got the skill to break a game open any time he touches the puck."

There's a popular phrase around the NHL that there comes a point in an 82-game season where younger players will "hit a wall" and their play won't be as strong as it was starting out. Forsberg believes he can avoid that by not looking too far down the road.

"I just try to not think about it really," Forsberg said. "I just try to think one day ahead all the time, just for the next game and the next practice and always try to improve. There's a lot of stuff that I still can do better, even though it's been going pretty good. That's really all I'm focusing on right now."

Forsberg's strong start has played a big role in Nashville being near the top of the Western Conference standings. If he is able to continue his production, the Predators will remain a legitimate threat for the rest of the season.

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