Sunday night was as much about the future for the Nashville Predators as it was about trying to play spoiler against the Red Wings. Fighting for their playoff lives, Detroit shut out the Predators 3-0.
For the Predators faithful, all eyes were on Filip Forsberg. Touted as a skilled top-six forward, Forsberg made his NHL debut playing on a line with David Legwand and Taylor Beck, replacing the injured Patric Hornqvist.
“He has good hands and can shoot the puck. He’s a smart hockey player. He knows the game,” Legwand explained after the game. “He knows where to be and that’s a big thing. It’s going to take him a couple games to get adjusted to the speed and that type of thing, but he was good.”
Captain Shea Weber agreed with Legwand’s assessment of the 18-year-old.
“He was good. Obviously, he is very nifty and good in small areas with the puck and made a couple of quick plays and almost scored in the second [period]. He is going to be a good player,” he said.
Last year, Forsberg was drafted 11th overall by the Washington Capitals. The Predators acquired Forsberg in the trade for Martin Erat in the waning minutes of the Apr. 3 trade deadline. Michael Latta was also sent to the Capitals.
Forsberg played 18:37, had two shots on goal, two attempted shots, and had one hit. Forsberg also finished the night minus-2, including being on the ice for an empty-net tally.
Only Legwand and Scott Hartnell were younger when they made their NHL debut, making Forsberg the third youngest player to suit up for the Predators. Head coach Barry Trotz was confident in his decision to give Forsberg big minutes, but also ready in case it was too much for him to handle.
“I was just going into the game and giving him an opportunity. It’s a big task. I had a Plan B in place if he wasn’t going to be able to handle [Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg],” Trotz said.
Definitely the player with the highest expectations, but Forsberg is not the only prospect finding their way onto the NHL roster a little earlier than expected. A frustrating season mired with injuries, there is a silver lining for the Predators: The team’s future is getting some ice time in the NHL now.
“We have some good young players here. It is going to be interesting to see what happens in the summer and next year. I don’t want to look ahead yet, you are going to do that at the end of the season, but this is not the season myself and the whole team would have liked,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said.
Trotz mentioned that having a good look at so many players getting big minutes due to the injuries is beneficial for the players as well as the team.
“It is what it is. They are getting real valuable experience. The guys we are looking at, we are going to have to make decisions on. They’re showing us what they can and can’t do. That’s the positive. I know it isn’t probably a great answer for the fans from that standpoint, but that’s the reality,” he said.
With rookies Austin Watson and Daniel Bang playing in the NHL sooner than expected as well as Taylor Beck and Victor Bartley playing much larger roles than anticipated, this experience will only serve the youngsters well as they compete for jobs next season.
“Those kids are playing good right now. They’re playing well. Everyone is fighting for their jobs,” Legwand said.