On Thursday, the Nashville Predators announced they had recalled forward Filip Forsberg from the Milwaukee Admirals and assigned Taylor Beck back to Milwaukee. Forsberg was sent down to play some top-six minutes and he responded with 6 points in 4 games. The question now is what do the Preds do with him now that he is back?
In 11 games with the Preds this season, Forsberg has 5 points (1 goal and 4 assists) while averaging 11:52 of ice time. From a sheer offensive production standpoint, he has more points than Gabriel Bourque (3 points in 15 games), Nick Spaling (3 in 14), Viktor Stalberg (2 in 12), Paul Gaustad (3 in 18) and Matt Hendricks (1 in 15). He is also averaging fewer minutes than all of these other forwards. Granted, Forsberg does not take face-offs or provide the physicality and toughness of some of these other forwards, but his lack of scoring is more indicative of the entire team struggling than Forsberg himself.
Forsberg does not do these other things, so the expectation for him is offensive production. He has not produced at the NHL level yet, but has shown flashes of the skill required. The issue becomes how do the Preds best utilize Forsberg to make him as productive as possible and have they done it yet.
First let’s consider Forsberg’s linemates. Looking at time on ice with certain linemates, Forsberg has spent the majority of his time on the ice playing with Eric Nystrom, David Legwand, Nick Spaling and Gaustad. Of the four, Legwand is the only player with more points than Forsberg this season.
There is no doubt Bourque and Stalberg are good NHL players, but is what the Preds are expecting from them consistent with how they are being used. For Bourque, I think the answer is no. Bourque is not a guy the Preds are looking to for offensive production as his main contribution to the team. He is a good all-around NHL player that is responsible at both ends of the ice and can provide scoring when needed. He has scored in bursts in the past, but that is not what the Preds need from him. The problem for the Preds is that Bourque, and a number of other less-skilled players, are better NHL players than Forsberg is right now.
Stalberg is a lot closer to Forsberg in expectation in that both are on the roster to score goals. Stalberg has struggled this year and fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. It may be that the quality of his linemates was better at the start of the season and he has played himself out of a leading role. Forsberg has simply not been given the opportunity to spend enough time on the ice with the more talented Predators.
Another thing to consider is the type of minutes Forsberg has played in the past. We can do this by looking at the quality of his competition and the quality of his linemates. The numbers reflect that Forsberg is spending more time on the ice against a lower-level of competition than many of his teammates. Through 11 games, he is second on the team with regard to lowest level of competition faced for forwards. This means not only against a lower forward line, but also against a lower defensive pairing.
However, Forsberg also ranks low when considering the quality of teammate he has been playing with, while guys like Bourque, Legwand and Spaling are spending more time on the ice with more skilled teammates, albeit against tougher competition.
Where does this all lead us. Forsberg is a young skilled offensive player who is playing with the third and fourth lines against other team’s third and fourth lines. He does not have high level offensive talent around him to support creative offensive playmaking. While playing against third and fourth lines may seem easier, for a skill player, that is not always the case. The third and fourth lines are going to play a grittier, slower brand of hockey that leads to less rushes and offensive chances. While the top lines will have more offensive skill, that is also usually coupled with less defensive responsibility which leads to more open ice and more active shifts, a situation Forsberg would thrive in.
At the end of the day, Trotz and the rest of the coaching staff need to find a way to get Forsberg on one of the top two lines for an extended period of time. Forsberg should see more success when playing top-line minutes, and not simply because of more talent around him, but because it will allow him to take better advantage of his own talents. At 19, he has a lot of time left to develop but he will not do it effectively playing on the fourth line.
Who do you think Forsberg should play with? Let us know in the comments.