One thing you might have noticed over the past two or three games is an increase in atta boys, video montages, and overall praise for Gustav Forsling. Nowhere was it more present (and well-deserved) than last Wednesday against the Rangers. You may remember Forsling saving a game-tying goal after Rutta lost his ass and Crawford got caught hemmed onto the near post in the 3rd period.
If you’re like me, you probably assumed that the love Forsling was receiving was just an overzealous welcome back party after his brief brown-brain shelving. Between Eddie O., Mike Milbury and the rack of ribs he keeps tied to the roof of his foot-propelled rock car, and whichever other good ol’ boy NBC had covering the game, all of the praise sounded like the yearning of people who peaked in high school talking about the reunion they’re looking forward to going back to. And it makes sense: The Hawks blue line still has more questions than answers, and with Forsling coming back, it would seem that at least some regularity would reign. But you and I know better: Forsling isn’t actually that good, so having him back isn’t THAT big of a deal.
I decided to test this hypothesis and found out that for all the shit I like to give Forsling, he might actually be the future of the Hawks blue line. Look at some of the things I found.
His Ice Time Has Spiked Since Returning
Prior to turning out the lights and trying to stay awake, Forsling averaged 17:45 at evens through 11 games. Since coming back, he’s averaged a full four minutes more (21:55) through five. And it’s not like he’s padding the stats in the 3-on-3 gigglefest. In the only game that went to OT (Carolina), Forsling played 20, maybe 30, seconds in OT, tallying the secondary assist on Saad’s screamer from Kitten Mittons. The rise in ice time coincides with a fairly large drop in Seabrook’s ice time: In the past five games, Seabrook has eclipsed 20 minutes just once, and that was the first game Forsling came back. In fact, he’s played under 17 minutes in his last two, splitting respective 59+ and 43+ CF%s against the Rangers and Penguins.
“But ice time isn’t indicative of success,” you might say. “Look at TVR.” Generally, you’d be right. You may even be right in particular. But I’ve got good news if you’re optimistic.
His CF% Has Been at Least 50 Since Returning
He’s had CF%s of 57.58, 56.52, 54.55, 50.00, and 58.06 at evens over the last five. In three of those games (the first, second, and fourth in that list), he started no more than 45% of his time in the offensive zone. He spent 64% in the oZ against the Devils and 50% against the Penguins. So while Forsling’s been billed as an offensive threat with holes in his defense, those numbers look good. In fact, if you toss out the five minutes he played (and got domed) in Colorado, he’s a fly’s asshair above 50 for CF% on the year. So hovering around 50 CF% at evens while taking about 60% of his draws in the defensive zone certainly qualifies as promising at least.
He’s Doing This Despite Playing With Seabrook More Than Ever
I didn’t believe it either, but Forsling has played almost eight minutes more with Seabrook at evens in the last five games than he had in his first 11. He’s played just about as much time with Seabrook on the PK (4v5) in the last five as he did in the first 11 as well. What made it seem like much, much more was that in just 4:45 of ice time on the PK with Seabrook through the first 11, that pairing gave up two goals. This isn’t a call for Forsling to play with Seabrook more. Keeping Forsling away from Seabrook needs to be Initiatives 1, 2, and 3 going forward, but it’s nice to know he can sort of hold his own.
He Might Not Be as Bad on the PK as We Thought
The Hawks are currently killing penalties at an 85% clip, good for Top 5 in the league. They’ve given up just 11 goals in 74 opportunities, and Forsling has been on the ice for four of those goals in 44:33 of PK ice time. Two of those goals came with Seabrook, and the other two have come over nearly 30 minutes with Rutta. That puts him in the same neighborhood as Brandon Saad (four goals, 44:37) and Jonathan Toews (four goals, 39:13), and not too terribly far from Duncan Keith (seven goals, 64:18). And he’s doing this at 21 years old. Whereas we like to bitch about Q not giving young players a shot, it looks like Forsling is being thrown into the defensive end whenever he has the chance. The optimistic side of me thinks this is a trial by fire of seeing what he might be defensively, and so far, it hasn’t been nearly as terrible as it looked like it would be early on. It’s the old drumbeat of if he can stay away from Seabrook, he might have more room to blossom.
His Power Play Time Has Shot Up Since His Return
Prior to his injury, Forsling averaged about 20 seconds of ice time on the power play, most of which I assume was by accident. Since returning, he’s averaged 1:42 of PP TOI, with almost all of it coming while playing with Keith. While I won’t go so far as to say having Forsling on the PP is what fixed it, it’s an interesting coincidence that since his return and placement on the PP in the last three games (he played fewer than 10 seconds of PP time in his first two games back), he’s scored a PP goal himself and has been on the ice for two of the five goals the Hawks have scored on the PP (for whatever that’s worth). Again, Forsling may not be the primary cause for the PP’s outburst, but I can’t help but connect his addition to it and the outpouring of goals we’ve seen from it. Cautious optimism for now.
Forsling is not Duncan Keith. It’s unlikely he’ll ever come close to being that. But for the time being, he’s pushed out strong CF%s under increasing ice time, including on the PP and PK. While many of us thought Murphy would be the linchpin to success, it looks like the tide might be shifting a bit toward Forsling.
It’s a long season, he’s still very young and green, and we’re comparing 11 games to five games, both of which are little more than streaks. But if the past five games are indicative of what we might have in Forsling—and he can keep posting strong shot shares despite starting primarily in the defensive zone—the future, both near and far, may not be as grim as we expect.
(All stats compiled using Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference. If you want to see the spreadsheet with the numbers I found, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)