Filip Forsberg was having no part of a sophomore slump last season.
He burst onto the NHL scene in 2014-15 as a rookie, scoring 26 goals and 63 points en route to making every Washington Capitals fan rue the day the team traded him to the Nashville Predators. He followed that effort up with another 33 goals and 64 points in 2015-16, putting to bed any worries about a possible backslide following an impressive year-one showing.
Over the last two seasons, Forsberg has emerged as one of the more talented young forwards in the league. His points per game average (0.77) put him in the same scoring territory as Jonathan Toews, Logan Couture and teammate Ryan Johansen. That is some impressive company, there’s no denying that the former first-round draft pick is an integral part of Nashville’s DNA.
Has Forsberg already reached his ceiling, though? He put up nearly identical point totals through his first two years in the league, and the Predators have remained mostly static around him. Is the 6’1″, 205-pound center already standing on the plateau of his career, where he’ll be able to safely produce 50-60 points per season until he reaches his 30’s?
Or does the young Swede still have another gear?
Heading into 2016-17, all eyes will be on P.K. Subban and arguably the best blue line in the entire NHL. Pundits will be watching the former Montreal Canadien closely as he settles in on his new team.
Pekka Rinne will garner a lot of interest as he enters the twilight of his career as well, and Johansen will be viewed as the organization’s best forward on opening night. All that could very well change if Forsberg takes the next step in his already impressive development, though.
He’s been so consistent it’s almost too easy to overlook. Forsberg’s longest point drought last season was five games, and he strung together a whopping 17 multi-point outings. While other early 20-somethings struggled to find their footing at the pro level — let alone on their team’s top six — Forsberg’s production was almost a constant.
The Predators rewarded him with a massive six-year extension worth $36 million. His $6 million comes with increased pressure to produce, but Forsberg is poised to have a breakout season.
Some may enter 2016-17 expecting another 60-point outing from the forward, and that wouldn’t be disappointing at all. If that is the player he is — a consistent and reliable 60-point top-line option — then so be it. Nashville will still get plenty of bang for its buck during the life of this contract.
There’s more to Forsberg’s game than the point totals he’s posted over the last two seasons, however. His game truly took off when Johansen arrived in Nashville, and with a full campaign to work with in 2016-17, we could see Forsberg emerge as the NHL’s next great goal scorer. We’re talking Vladimir Tarasenko or Jamie Benn level here.
Especially if he can start hitting the net more frequently. He saw his shooting percentage spike from 11 percent to 13.4 percent from year one to year two, but he was one of the league’s worst when it comes to shooting efficiency. If he starts hitting the net more often, it will clearly result in more goals than the 33 he notched a year ago.
Over the last two seasons, only 13 players have found the back of the net more frequently than Forsberg, and he still has a lot of room to grow as a shooter. Remember, this is a player who spent a majority of his rookie season taking passes from Mike Ribeiro almost exclusively during 5-on-5 play.
There was a time when Ribeiro was one of the better passers available, but that was years ago. He’s on the final legs of his career, and Forsberg still managed to score 26 times.
Things changed drastically when Johansen came over from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the duo found almost instant chemistry. As impressive as they were on the fly a year ago, Forsberg and Johansen could become one of the games more fearsome (and most productive lines) as soon as this season.
What’s most striking about Forsberg is how good he’s been early in his career. He’s just now entering his prime scoring years, and the Predators could see a half-decade-plus of him pushing for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy. He’s already scoring at a clip similar to Tyler Seguin and John Tavares, but both of those players are inside of their prime scoring windows. Seguin will turn 25 this season and Tavares turns 26 in September.
We won’t see them fall off the scoring leaders list for quite some time, but Forsberg just turned 22 this month. This is his age-22 campaign, and odds are good that it’ll be a doozie. It might be the Subban show in Nashville come October, but don’t be shocked if the hockey world is collectively paying attention to Forsberg and his scoring prowess come November.