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Sit Back, Relax, and Strap it Down – ’17-’18 Blackhawks Player Previews: Gustav Forsling

Behold, the next stop on this crazy train through the Blackhawks’ so-called defense corps is upon us! Today we take a look at the only remaining Swedish defenseman that dons the Four Feathers, or at least the only one worth giving half a shit about anymore (if Gustafsson and Svedberg still do anything for you, I am truly sorry). Gustav Forsling went from fourth round pick to impressive prospect, meaning Jim Benning couldn’t wait to trade him back when he was convincing himself that his ’96 Camry of a team was a Porsche. Now a year into his NHL career, we’ve seen that there is still some work to do for Gustav. Let’s dig in.

2016-17 Stats

38 GP – 2 G, 3 A, 5 P

48.5 CF%, 58.1% oZS%, 49.1 dZS%

ATOI: 14:49

A Look Back: Forsling clearly wasn’t great last season, but it could’ve been a lot worse than it was. Not being able to break 50% of the shot share is obviously a concern, especially when starting nearly 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone, but it’s no secret the Blackhawks overall were not the possession monster they’ve been last year, so that ended up being only a -2.9% CFrel for Fors. As a 20-year-old adjusting to a new country, new ice size, and a whole new level of competition, I will take that as a starting point, because the assumption is it should only improve from here.

Strangely, one of the most encouraging aspects of last season for Fors was the fact that he accepted his demotion to Rockford. He had a clause built into his ELC with the Hawks that if they tried to demote him from the NHL squad, he could opt to go back to Sweden in play there instead of accepting a demotion to the A. I try not to read too much into this shit, but the fact that he went down there instead of taking his rock and going home shows me that he realizes being in the Hawks system is important. It may have taken some convincing from the Hawks at some point, but at least it happened. Forsling is no doubt the Hawks best prospect on the blue line, so having him in their hands to develop somehow is important. He also was pretty good for the Hogs, putting up 1 goal and 7 assists in 30 games.

For a while when I watched video of Forsling, I almost saw him as Duncan Keith-lite. I have since come down from that high. But for better or worse, I see a whole lot of Nick Leddy in him now. Forsling’s play last year was about what you’d expect from a young player adjusting to all of the change that comes at the NHL level. He looked lost at times, made some mistakes with the puck, and yet still was able to show some flashes of his skill. If you remember when Leddy first came up, he was a lot like that. In fact, Leddy’s rookie numbers are eerily similar to Forsling’s; in 46 games he put up 4 goals and 3 assists, and compiled a 50.3 CF% (-5.3 CFrel%) with a 62.2 oZS%.

The Leddy saga ended poorly for the Blackhawks, as they ended up having to trade him for a dude named after a dance and a wet sock or two. Forsling can end up being the same type of player as Leddy, which in reality is badly needed on this Blackhawks team, because Keith isn’t what he once was and Kempny can’t provide all the speed by himself. The concern is that Q might fuck it up again, like he did with Leddy before and Kempny just last year.

A Look Ahead: This season is going to be hugely important for Forsling. If he can take the next step toward the potential that had Vancouver fans mad at ol’ Jimbo when they traded him, he could be a key part of this Blackhawks blue line. There’s obviously things to improve upon, but with a year under his belt and as he continues to improve and grow, one would hope the next step would come rather easily.

He’s likely to make the NHL squad out of training camp again, and he’ll probably get placed on third pair and tasked with bum-slaying, if there is still such a thing in the NHL. Who his partner would be is anyone’s guess (it could even be YOU!) but one would hope Q isn’t stupid enough to look the gift horse that is Cody Franson in the mouth during training camp. Franson isn’t anything special, and certainly not a savior, but he’s better than anyone the Hawks have outside of their top four, including Forsling, and has a good offensive game. He could be a great partner for Forlsing to grow alongside in those third line minutes.

Alternatively, he could get paired with Seabrook because Q wants some sort of bullshit balance, and those two will likely get their faces punched in for 15 minutes a night. I can already see Forsling running all over the blue line to try to cover for his partner while Seabrook falls over to pick up a jalapeño so he can adorn his nachos. Let’s just hope we don’t have to see this one.

I know it hasn’t quite been our MO thus far to be uplifting about these blue liners, because the outlook is bleak. But Forsling still has potential, and is still extremely young. As much as it may sound like a hyperbole, he could end up being a huge impact player this season for Chicago. If he takes the next step and ends up being a serviceable NHL defenseman, the blue line situation will look slightly less bleak. If he doesn’t, we might just get to see how many minutes Duncan Keith can play consecutively before shitting his pants and dying.

Statistics via Hockey Reference

Photo via CSN Chicago

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempný

Brent Seabrook