Prospect Profile: #16 Gustav Forsling

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18-year-old Swedish defenseman Gustav Forsling was drafted in the fifth-round by the Vancouver Canucks at the dawn of the Jim Benning era this past June. An undersized, well-rounded defenseman out of the Linkoping system, Forsling has yet to debut at the senior level over in Sweden though he’s been on the Tre Kronor’s radar for years, and has competed internationally at the U16, U17, and U18 level. 

Read on past the jump.

Generally described as “toolsy” (including by our friend Corey Pronman), Forsling is a good skater with a plus left-handed shot. He’s regarded as steady defensively and is widely praised for his willingness to play grittier hockey than one might expect from a 5-foot-11, 175 pound blue-liner. 

“He’s well rounded,” junior Hockeysvirege.se blogger Jacob Nystrom, who covers Swedish junior hockey told us. “He’s got a good first pass, moves around easily, has some grit to him – he’s not that big but he’s not afraid going into tough challenges.”

While there’s a lot to like about Forsling’s game and the gamble the Canucks made when they selected him, he was around in the fifth round for a reason. The most notable of those reasons is Forsling’s size (or lack thereof), but it’s also worth pointing out that he hasn’t been all that productive for the Linkoping Juniors. 

Forsling was 5th among U18 skaters in the ‘SuperElit’ during his draft eligible season, which is fine, but the issue here is that the majority of the Swedish-born defenders in the NHL were playing with men during their first draft eligible season. 

Of the 28 Swedish-born defenders who played at least a game in the NHL last season, 25 played in Sweden during their first draft eligible campaign (Johnny Oduya (CHL), Doug Murray (IJHL), and Christian Folin (NCAA) are the exceptions). Of those 25 defenders, 15 at least debuted at the senior level during their U18 season. Of the 10 players who didn’t crack a senior team roster as an 18-year-old, only six were NHL regulars during the 2013-14 campaign (among those six defenders is Canucks blue-liner Alex Edler, and also: Carl Gunnarsson, Anton Stralman, Jonathan Ericsson, Matthias Ekholm and Nicklas Grossman). 

I put together a list of 10 Swedish-born defenders who appeared in the NHL last season and spent the majority of their U18 season playing in the SuperElit (Sweden’s U18 league, kind of like the Swedish version of major junior). Players with a star (*) beside their name also played games at the senior level during their U18 season, and the table is broken down in terms of J20 games played and points-per-game:

U-18 Season Stats J20 GP PPG
Erik Karlsson* 38 0.96
Adam Almquist 41 0.88
Hampus Lindholm* 28 0.6
Patrik Nemeth* 38 0.52
Erik Gustafsson 41 0.49
Niklas Hjalmarsson* 31 0.48
Gustav Forsling 44 0.41
Matthias Ekholm 37 0.32
Carl Gunnarsson 22 0.31
Nicklas Grossman 30 0.03

Just a couple of very superficial takeaways from that tiny data set: clearly offense isn’t everything when projecting blue-liners, and Adam Almquist is returning to Sweden after failing to crack a wafer thin Detroit Red Wings blue-line over the past couple of seasons. Similarly Erik Gustafsson is joining the KHL this summer, fed up from spending too much time in the press box at Wells Fargo Arena for his liking. 

While Forsling outscored the defensive-defenseman types at the J20 level, his production lags well behind the likes of Hampus Lindholm and Patrik Nemeth – players who are obviously a cut above in terms of prospect quality. 

Anyway, it’s probably a bit much to describe Forsling’s relative lack of production as a red flag, but it’s certainly uninspiring especially given the 18-year-old’s profile. Though it’s pretty tough to crack the NHL as a 5-foot-11 defender if you’re not going to be producing some offense, there’s some reason to believe that perhaps the counting stats undervalue Forsling’s offensive tool kit.  

According to Nystrom, Forsling wasn’t exactly a mainstay on the power-play with Linkoping’s junior squad last season.

“He has a great shot, but he hasn’t used it that much in the junior leagues in Sweden,” said Nystrom. “Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t had the same role on his team as he did on the national team [in terms of power-play time].”

A left-handed shooting defender, Forsling has a cannon shot and made minced meat out of opposing penalty-kill units when he got an opportunity on the point at five-on-four for the Tre Kronor at the U18’s. He led all defenders at that tournament with four goals, and you can see several of them in this highlight package:

Though Forsling excelled at the U18 tournament, he wasn’t invited to the Tre Kronor’s U20 summer development camp, so it seems unlikely that he’ll be wearing the Tre Kronor at the World Junior Hockey Championships this December (barring an absolutely dominant showing this fall).

Forsling also may have to wait another season before cracking Linkoping’s senior roster. In chatting with Nystrom, he suggested that Forsling will most likely be given another year to marinate at the J20 level.

Whichever level he plays at, it’ll be key for Forsling to become more of a scoring threat next season, while also putting on weight without sacrificing too much foot-speed. The 18-year-old has the sort of skill set that fans can dream on, but he remains a raw product and a long-term project (like all late rounders). 

OTHER PROFILES IN THIS SERIES:

  • Andy

    I get that 15 – 20 is probably a toss-up, but I don’t understand why Forsling is ranked higher than Cederholm. By all accounts Cederholm is further along and has played a higher level of hockey.

    Not a criticism really, just curious.

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      You’re right, after 13 or 14 it’s a jumbled mess and it really boils down to personal preference more than anything else. I can’t speak for anyone else, but – seeing as I actually had Forsling at 16 and Cederholm at 20 myself – I can answer my personal reasoning for it.

      I wrote this about Cederholm at length last week, but I don’t really think there’s any reason to believe he’ll ever wind up amounting to anything of note. He’s just another guy. Whereas Forsling, even though he’s quite far away, has quite markedly higher upside/potential. Whether he ever comes close to reaching it is a legitimate question mark, but at this point it’s a risk worth taking over the alternative.

      Hope that answers it, but quite frankly I wouldn’t take much issue with someone having them the other way around.

  • Andy

    @Dimitri

    That makes sense. I think I’m probably just looking at Cederholm with WHL blinders on, while I’ve only seen clips of Forsling completely out of game context.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    If the Canucks was going to take a gamble with a late Swedish pick I don’t mind that it is Gustav Forsling. Would’ve preferred Sebastian Aho who I have no idea how went undrafted.