It wasn’t long ago that the Detroit Red Wings were Sweden’s unofficial NHL team, a wildly successful franchise loaded with Swedish talent. But the Wings’ old rival has supplanted them.
“The Blackhawks have taken over now,” Gustav Forsling said. “All the hats you see are Blackhawks, more and more. That’s good. I like that.”
Sweden loves the Hawks because the Hawks love Sweden — particularly Swedish defensemen. And Forsling might be the next one to crack the lineup, following the likes of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, David Rundblad, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg. The smooth-skating Forsling just turned 20 last month, but is arguably the top defensive prospect in the system right now — and a dark horse to make the team out of training camp this fall. AHL veteran Ville Pokka (who missed prospects camp with a lower-body injury) might be the most NHL-ready of the next generation at the moment, but many within the Hawks organization feel Forsling has the highest ceiling.
If he doesn’t make the Hawks, Forsling will head back to Sweden for another year rather than play in Rockford (he had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games last year). He’s fine with that, and the Hawks are fine with that. But Forsling’s hoping that when he comes back across the Atlantic in September, he’ll be here to stay.
“Yeah, I mean, why not?” Forsling said at Hawks prospect camp at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “I’m here to develop and learn and all that stuff, but I’m trying to make the team. If I don’t, I go back to Sweden, and there’s nothing bad in Sweden. It’s a really good league.”
Forsling’s chances took a hit with the signing of Brian Campbell and the re-signing of Michal Rozsival, which bolstered an alarmingly thin defensive corps. Even Gustafsson and Svedberg, who combined for 68 NHL games last season, seem destined to spend much of the season in the AHL. But one of Joel Quenneville’s favorite adages is that you can never have too many defensemen. The Hawks used 11 different defensemen last season, and 13 the year before that.
Forsling’s time might not be now, but it’ll be soon.
“Over the course of a year, you need 10 or 11 defensemen,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “You can never have too many guys.”
Forsling’s not complaining about the sudden logjam ahead of him on the blue line. Chicago is where he wanted to be, and he welcomed the trade on Jan. 29, 2015 that sent Adam Clendening to the Canucks and Forsling to the Hawks. Like so many puck-moving defensemen before him, Forsling feels the Hawks’ quick-thinking, quick-passing style suits his game.
“I like the game plan they have here, and they like Swedish defensemen,” Forsling said with a smile. “[The depth chart] doesn’t matter. I need to play my best game to take a spot in the NHL. Of course, it’s getting even harder now, but if I’m going to play in the NHL, I have to be NHL good. And that’s up to me.”