Before he became a hometown hero, a postseason star and a Stanley Cup champion, Scott Darling was pretty much a nobody with half an impressive American Hockey League season under his belt. Before he became one of the top backups in the league, Antti Raanta was an undrafted free agent out of Finland.
So Anton Forsberg, the Blackhawks’ new backup goaltender, wants you to look past the 4.02 goals-against average and .879 save percentage he has managed in 10 measly NHL games scattered over the last three seasons.
“I haven’t played a lot in the NHL, and my numbers aren’t great [in] the ones I’ve played,” Forsberg said. “But I played a lot in the AHL, and I feel like I [did] some good things there, winning the Calder Cup two years ago, and [put up] good numbers in a lot of games. I gained a lot of experience, and I’m ready to take the next step.”
He better be. He’s the only viable option at backup in the Hawks’ system and figures to play around 25 games next season, based on Corey Crawford’s usual workload.
“I think his time is now,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “He’s had a couple years here to work his way up. He’s had tremendous success at the American League level, and now he needs a chance at the NHL level.”
The 24-year-old Forsberg was stuck behind Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and 23-year-old Joonas Korpisalo with the Blue Jackets. So he was excited when the Hawks acquired him in the deal that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Brandon Saad back to Chicago. The Hawks quickly signed Forsberg to a two-year contract worth a team-friendly $750,000 a season.
“I knew we had a lot of goalies in the pipeline in Columbus,” Forsberg said. “I focused on myself the past season and didn’t really try to think too much about it. I just tried to play my game and had a good season in the AHL even though I didn’t play much in the NHL. Once I found out I was traded to Chicago, I was really happy. I see it as a great opportunity and a really good organization.”
Forsberg went 27-17-2 with a stellar .926 save percentage with the Cleveland Monsters last season. The year before, he backstopped the Monsters to the Calder Cup, sweeping the Rockford IceHogs along the way.
The Hawks have been spoiled in recent years with backup goalies. Darling parlayed his Hawks success into a starting gig with the Hurricanes. Raanta, after two strong seasons with the Rangers, is the presumptive starter for the Coyotes. Ray Emery garnered Vezina Trophy votes as a backup in 2013. Before that, the Hawks had veterans Marty Turco and Cristobal Huet to lean on.
Of course, playing behind a good team with a focus on defense helps any goalie.
“[Their backups] have been playing good the last couple of years, and I hope to bring exactly the same thing to my team,” Forsberg said. “That’s obviously a good thing for a goalie to come into a strong team and play behind that team. It’s obviously something I’m looking forward to.”
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