Everybody gets burned by Fil: Forsberg uses his flash to propel Predators' playoff run

Filip Forsberg, right, has wowed his Nashville teammates with his ability to finish off goals. "He might be the most creative player I've ever played with," Kyle Turris said. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The slickest goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs might have come in a Game 1 of the first round. Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg carried the puck by his right skate as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard approached. In a move that looked beta-tested by video game controllers, Forsberg poked the puck through his own legs, collected it in stride, scooted around a wobbly Girard, then slipped the puck past goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

The sequence took all of three seconds, but the reverberations -- the instant GIFs, the social media gushing, the highlight on loop -- lasted well past the 24-hour news cycle. As Forsberg's teammate Austin Watson said afterward: "He thinks of doing things out there that wouldn't even happen in my dreams."

There's another thing the Predators want you to know about the 23-year-old Swede: You might be impressed by his dazzling moves in games, but you should see the stuff he tries in practice.

"He's always trying something -- flipping his hands over, doing something weird," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "You're like, 'What is he doing?' But he pulls something off his sleeve, and it's usually pretty impressive."

"He might be the most creative player I've ever played with," said center Kyle Turris, acquired from the Ottawa Senators last November. "The things he tries in practice are insane. It's really neat to watch."

Or, as defenseman P.K. Subban said, "Everybody gets burned by Fil."

In the playoffs, Forsberg is the anonymous assassin. His 12 points -- 5 goals, 7 assists -- through 11 games pace the Predators (Forsberg led Nashville in the regular season with 64 points despite missing 11 games with an injury and three to suspension). Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Forsberg has 24 game-winning goals -- ninth-most in the NHL in that span and more than players such as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin or Jonathan Toews. Meanwhile, Forsberg's top line is Nashville's most lethal in the playoffs; Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson have a 53.7 Corsi for percentage and 63.6 goals for percentage. Sure, opponents know what kind of fits Forsberg can cause.

"He's got such a big reach, you can't make a lunge at him because he'll go the other way in a hurry," Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said. "He can score goals from a lot of interesting places on the ice, sort of like Patty [Laine] can."

But in terms of straight star power, Forsberg doesn't hold the clout he probably deserves. The first suggested result when you Google his name is: "Is Filip Forsberg related to Peter Forsberg?" (The answer is no.) On a Predators team whose best asset is its depth, you'll spot as many Forsberg jerseys in Nashville as just about every other player. In interviews, he rarely reveals much. His goal celebrations are understated at best. Forsberg was a high draft pick who came to Nashville via a splashy trade and has exceeded expectations.

Forsberg was born in Ostervala, a town of fewer than 2,000 people in eastern Sweden, and has played professionally since he was 16. He follows his father, Patrick, who also played professionally in Sweden. In 2012, the Washington Capitals drafted the winger with the No. 11 pick of the draft, and he quickly gained a reputation as one of the league's top prospects. By 2013, Forsberg was playing in Sweden's second-tier league. He had 33 points in 38 games as Leksand won promotion to the top league. The Capitals' then-general manager George McPhee wanted Forsberg to join their AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, following the season so he could better acclimate to North American hockey. Forsberg never had the chance.

In 2013, the Capitals triggered a shocking trade: The 18-year-old was sent to Nashville for 31-year-old Martin Erat (who had two years remaining on his contract, earning $4.5 million per season) and a 21-year-old center named Michael Latta. At the time, McPhee said it was a hockey trade for the Capitals to "win now." Five years later, it is remembered as one of the more lopsided NHL trades in recent history.

Consider Erat and Latta played a combined 183 games for Washington and scored just six goals. (Erat would later ask for a trade and be shipped off to the Coyotes at the 2014 trade deadline.) Forsberg played in eight career games against the Capitals ... and has scored six goals against the team that drafted him.

When Forsberg arrived in Nashville, there was just one Swede on the team: Patric Hornqvist. Eight years his senior, Hornqvist offered for Forsberg to stay with him and his then-fiancée (now wife) to help get acclimated with the team and the city. The Predators have since picked up several Swedish players, and Forsberg graduated to renting his own apartment in the same complex -- and same floor -- as Mattias Ekholm and Calle Jarnkrok. The transition to the NHL felt seamless for Forsberg, who finished the 2014-15 season by setting the Predators' single-season rookie scoring record with 63 points. Then this September, Forsberg was named an alternate captain.

"It's the NHL, and you're named as one of the couple guys that has the letter on your jersey, and obviously that's something to be proud of," Forsberg said. "At the same time, you can't really change when the coaching staff and the team has put letters on jerseys on a couple guys for a reason. I don't think that's meant to be changed, just try to do the same things."

In Sweden, Forsberg grew up idolizing Peter Forsberg (about 20 years his senior). Peter Forsberg broke stereotypes for European-born players, who at the time had a reputation for being less physical than North Americans. The younger Forsberg has followed suit.

"It takes everything these days," Filip Forsberg said. "You can't just do one thing. You've got to be able to do all the things."

Turris said that before he arrived in Nashville, he "obviously knew [Forsberg] was a good player."

"I didn't realize how physical he was and how strong he was," Turris said. "You think of him skill-wise and scoring goals. But how he uses his size, I didn't realize how good he was using his back to shield the puck and hitting guys."

That presents problems for defenders, such as Winnipeg's Jacob Trouba.

"The little different thing with him is that he's such a big body and he's so strong," Trouba said. "A lot of the time, you get the big and strong guys or the fast and skilled guys that are a little smaller, but he's got it all. So, you've got to be on your toes and know he has that capability. You respect him, but don't respect him too much. You've got to play him hard."

If you're wondering what's next for Forsberg, his teammates can hint at what he has tried in practice. A few weeks ago, Turris was awed by a move in a 2-on-2 drill.

"I gave him a pass on his feet," Turris recalled. "He took it off his feet. He skated between the two defensemen when he got in on net. He's a righty -- he changed to his left hand with his stick, and, naturally, he scored."