From the surprise of being traded to a difficult start to his NHL career, Nashville Predators rookie Filip Forsberg came into this season as a 20-year-old in need of a fresh start. He was fortunate that Predators first-year coach Peter Laviolette didn't know and didn't care about what had happened to Forsberg in the past.
"It was perfect," Forsberg said during the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, where he had two goals on two shots in his first NHL All-Star Game. "Coming into training camp with a new coach, everyone had to start at the first page and I think that was good for me."
Laviolette gave Forsberg the freedom to play his game, not to mention skilled linemates in Mike Ribeiro and James Neal. Feeling more comfortable and less restricted, Forsberg has answered with a performance that, to date at least, makes him the favorite to win the Calder Trophy.
Forsberg enters Nashville's game Thursday at the St. Louis Blues with 41 points and a plus-25 rating in 46 games. He leads all rookies in points, assists (25) and plus-minus rating. He is tied with Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman for the most goals among rookies (16).
Laviolette said he can't say if Forsberg's play has surprised him this season because he didn't know what to expect in the first place.
Center - NSH
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 41
SOG: 145 | +/-: 25
"I have no memory of last year," Laviolette said. "My knowledge and working relationship with Filip really just stems from when I saw him at development camp for the first time. I took the job, came in for development camp, I saw him in rookie camp and in our [training] camp. He made our team and got off to a good start. If you take it from Day One you see a player who has gotten better, gotten more confident, who has been successful. I don't know if it's surprised me because I didn't have anything to go off of other than just from Day One here."
Forsberg remembers being shocked when he heard he was traded from the Washington Capitals to the Predators. The Capitals selected him with the No. 11 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, but traded him on April 3, 2013 for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.
"It was almost midnight in Sweden, I was hanging out with a couple buddies, about to go to bed and I got a call, and I was traded," Forsberg said. "Stuff happened really quick."
Many people in the industry saw the trade as a desperation move by the Capitals, who were struggling at the time and were looking for veteran scoring help. Erat's career in Washington was rather forgettable, but at the time he was considered an option to play in their top-six group of forwards.
"I wanted to help this team now," former Capitals general manager George McPhee told reporters the day he made the trade, according to the Washington Post.
Forsberg said the trade didn't necessary matter to him, particularly because he was still playing in Sweden at the time.
"The trade didn't really change anything for me," Forsberg said. "I was just really determined to be as good of a player as I can. I was planning to play for Washington one day, but it turned out to be Nashville and I'm really happy."
Forsberg, though, had a hard time adjusting to former Nashville coach Barry Trotz's style. He played 18 games over the previous two seasons but scored only six points and was a minus-13. The pace might have been a problem, along with the fact he wasn't playing with linemates as skilled as Ribeiro and Neal.
Laviolette's up-tempo system has brought out the best in Forsberg.
"I think we want to play hockey the same way; he wants to play an offensive, really attacking brand of hockey and that's what I want to play too," Forsberg said. "As soon as we lose the puck we want to get it back and go on offense. That really suits me well, and I'm talking for a lot of guys on our team as well. Especially now that we're one of the top teams, you can't really afford to slow it down because there are so many teams trying to catch you."
Forsberg said Ribeiro, who came to Nashville seeking a new lease on his own career, has been the ideal linemate for him.
"He's really smart, great vision," Forsberg said. "I'm more of a shooter and I try to finish off the plays he's making. We both want to make plays, take the puck to the net, and that's why it's been working.
"My goal was just to make the team out of camp, but from there I've been playing with Ribeiro basically every game and he's helped me a lot. He gets huge credit for my success so far."