Filip Forsberg is a unique talent garnering NHL interest ahead of the 2012 draft, but there's also something about him that's a little unusual for a Swedish hockey star in the making. "I played baseball for two years when growing up," Forsberg says.
To put baseball's popularity in Sweden in perspective, more than half a million Swedes play soccer while more than 62,000 play hockey. Baseball? Less than 1,000 currently choose to participate in the American game.
But despite dabbling on the diamond, Forsberg decided at an early age that ice hockey would be his number one choice.
"Having a father who played hockey for many years made it a natural choice for me," says Forsberg, who has no relation to the former Colorado Avalanche superstar Peter Forsberg. "I spent a lot of hours at the rink as a kid."
The kid who decided to play hockey has developed into a prospect with a bright future. Experts, insiders, coaches and other players praise the forward for his skills and attitude.
Forsberg is a right-handed shooter playing the left wing, and amassed six goals and four assists across 11 international contests with the Swedish U-18 team last season. Now he projects to be one of the top international players taken in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
"He resembles Mats Sundin when he was at the same age," said former NHL player Tommy Salo, currently the general manager of Forsberg's Leksand team. "I played a lot with Mats, and seeing Filip today reminds of Sundin."
Forsberg, who turns 17 in August, is looking forward to the challenge that awaits him in Allsvenskan, the second-highest league in Sweden and just below the Elite league.
"My focus is to grab a starting role on the team but I know it's a tough task," Forsberg says. "The game is different from playing junior hockey since the players are bigger, stronger and experienced. The overall structure is stricter and if you make any mistakes they will be more costly than in the juniors but I see it as interesting and challenging."
Pelle Bäcklin coached Forsberg on the Leksand U20 team this past season and he sees a lot of potential in the draft-eligible player.
"He's one of those kids that always competes and at every practice he shows that he wants to learn and listens to the advice given to him," Bäcklin says. "Filip is very humble and understands that there still are flaws to his game, but he constantly challenges himself to become a better player.
"Filip is a bona fide goal scorer and he has that gift that puts him at the right place at the right time, where the puck finally ends up. His natural positioning on the ice is almost scary at times. He just seems to know where to go."
But there are still details in Forsberg's game that need to improve.
"I have to become more explosive in my skating, and the defensive work and understanding are other details that I need to work on," Forsberg said.
One scout who has seen Forsberg multiple times during the past two seasons added his view on the young forward:
"Forsberg has a natural winning drive on the ice. He likes to be in traffic and is usually around when decisive moments occur during a game. He's not floating around hiding himself from the action. Forsberg is tough, has good hands and his size is a plus too. He needs to work on his speed but it looks like that's just a matter of time to grow muscle."
Håkan Södergren, an analyst at Viasat Sport who covers the Allsvenskan league and played 14 seasons in the Swedish Elite League, is intrigued by Forsberg's potential.
"He is well built, smart and well educated being only 16 years old," Södergren said of the prospect who turns 17 on Aug. 13. "His intensity in the game is decent but he has very good hands and matches that with his skating. Overall Filip is a very promising prospect to say the least."