The Blackhawks clearly like the potential from Gustav Forsling. That’s why he made the team out of training camp last season as a 20-year-old, and it’s part of why the team didn’t go out and add any left-handed defensemen over the summer. They expect Forsling to play a key role on the defense this season at age 21 after splitting last season between the NHL and AHL. The good news is that there’s a real chance he’s prepared for the task.
Birth date: June 2, 1996
Acquired via: Trade with Vancouver (Jan. 29, 2015)
Most recent stop: Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Size: 6’0, 185 pounds
Contract: Two years, $872,500 cap hit
The Blackhawks landed Forsling from the Canucks in early 2015 as part of a forward-thinking trade by GM Stan Bowman. The team no longer had any use for another young blue liner, Adam Clendening, so it sent him to Vancouver in exchange for Forsling, who was in the midst of a breakout season holding his own as an 18-year-old in the SHL.
That positive development path continued for Forsling during the 2015-16 season in the SHL, where he put up six goals and 15 assists in 48 games with Linköping HC. Despite being one of the younger players on his team, Forsling was still a key performer.
Many outsiders expected Forsling to return to Sweden for the 2016-17 season, but he was so good in training camp last fall that the Blackhawks decided to put him on the opening day roster. He ended up playing 38 games in Chicago, although his results were lacking with just five points and a 48.5 percent even strength Corsi (despite often being sheltered in an easier role).
In the AHL, Forsling wasn’t significantly better with one goal and seven assists over 30 games. However, he spent a good deal of that time on a Rockford team that was gutted following the trades of Mark McNeill, Sam Carrick, and Spencer Abbott, so it’s hard to gauge how responsible Forsling is for his own issues.
Clearly none of that discouraged the Blackhawks from viewing Forsling as a part of their future. The team has left him a juicy opening to claim on the NHL roster, and assuming he’s as good as he’s supposed to be, he should have little trouble staving off the likes of Jordan Oesterle, Erik Gustafsson, and Carl Dahlstrom.
Forsling may never develop into a great two-way defenseman who can anchor the team’s No. 1 pairing once Duncan Keith begins to decline, but he could still have a bright future as a mobile puck mover who gets points and plays a responsible defensive game. Even if he’s not huge or great at winning puck battles near the boards, his positioning and I.Q. should allow him to play defense at an NHL level.
What’s next in 2017-18?
Forsling is a front-runner for one of the final two left-handed blue liner spots in Chicago along with Michal Kempny. It’s hard to see anyone leapfrogging those two on the depth chart for opening day, although they presumably won’t have long leashes to sort things out before Coach Q decides to look at, say, Oesterle or Gustafsson.
At age 21, this is right about the time when Forsling should flourish if he’s going to reach his potential. He was playing in Sweden’s top league as a teenager, and made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old. Now that he’s had a year to adjust to living in North America and playing the Hawks’ style of hockey, it’s time to see whether he’s the real deal.