Unlike last season, Gustav Forsling’s confidence remains high despite slump

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Gustav Forsling has three goals and nine assists in 33 games this season. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK — It was about a year ago that Gustav Forsling’s rookie season got away from him. His game started slipping, and his confidence soon followed. By February, he was in the American Hockey League, a promising start to his NHL career completely derailed.

It could happen again. Forsling was a healthy scratch the last two games, and his stellar play in November, when he looked like the heir apparent to Niklas Hjalmarsson as the Blackhawks’ top shutdown defender, feels like a distant memory. He has been too passive in the defensive zone and not aggressive enough in the offensive zone.

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But while Forsling’s game has dropped off, his confidence hasn’t. And that, he said, is a big difference.

“You get confidence when you look back to when you were playing good,” Forsling said. “I know I can play good. I just have to go out and do it.”

Coach Joel Quenneville has not lost confidence in him, either.

“He had a stretch of games [last season] where we gave him an opportunity to get back on track and it was just not quite good enough,” Quenneville said. “This year, his overall game has been way more consistent and at a higher level than last year. You have to find a way to push yourself to get better, so when you get back into the lineup, [you can] take advantage of it.”

Forsling indeed was back in the lineup Wednesday against the Rangers, but his usual partner, Jan Rutta, was a scratch for the third straight game. Quenneville liked what he saw out of Cody Franson on the power play in Edmonton and Calgary and wants to keep him in the lineup.

That is the ongoing challenge of having eight defensemen on the roster. Not only does Quenneville have a difficult decision to make every night, but the players have a much shorter leash than usual, with two players waiting for an opportunity to get in and take that job.

“For sure, but I think it’s a good thing,” Forsling said. “It’s always keeping you sharp, knowing that we’ve got eight ‘D’ and all of them can play and can play really good.”

Vinnie up top

With Richard Panik mired in an increasingly epic slump, Vinnie Hinostroza is the latest Hawks forward to get a crack at being Jonathan Toews’ and Brandon Saad’s right wing.

“He’s speedy, but he just seems to know where to be at all the right times,” Toews said. “He’s so shifty with the puck, I think he and [Alex] DeBrincat are pretty similar in that way, where they can just turn on a dime and make plays. He’s also got a great shot, so hopefully we can get him the puck and give him a chance to finish one or two.”

Panik was a healthy scratch for the fifth time in the last nine games. Toews can feel for Panik, who hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since the third game of the season. After all, Toews and Saad have had their own scoring slumps this season.

“He’s hard on himself and he’s trying to play better,” Toews said. “I think the three of us are all taking it upon ourselves to be better. Hopefully, he can find a way to do that, because we know what he can mean to this team.”

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Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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