Throughout Blackhawks training camp, Gustav Forsling did not know for sure if he was going to make the NHL roster.
He was playing well, but playing well is not always the determining factor for making the team in this age of the hard salary cap.
But when his family found out he had made it just days before the season opener Wednesday, they quickly boarded a flight from Sweden to Chicago, arriving around 2 p.m. Wednesday before Forsling made his NHL debut. They stuck around to see Forsling play on Saturday in the Hawks’ 5-3 victory against the Predators.
“It’s a really good feeling to have them here,” Forsling said. “They supported me a lot through the years.”
But on Sunday, Forsling’s family was gone and so is the novelty of his first few NHL games. Not that Forsling is worried about how he’s going to handle life in the NHL from here.
“Of course you miss your family and your friends, but this is my dream,” Forsling said. “I’m not missing home all that much.”
Not when you are a 20-year-old who has cracked the Hawks’ defensive rotation early in your rookie season. But in Forsling, who is averaging more than 13 minutes of ice time, the Hawks see a player who is playing older than his age.
“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “He doesn’t play like a 20-year-old. A lot of times those guys are nervous. Even within a game if he has a tough shift, I don’t think it fazes him. He doesn’t get rattled, which I think is the hardest thing for young players.”
The Hawks have made sure to ease Forsling into his first NHL action as best they can. For one, they gave him a tried-and-true partner in veteran Brian Campbell over the first few games. Forsling has spent most of his ice time with the 37-year-old Campbell, who said he’s impressed with Forsling. It reminds Campbell of when he played with Aaron Ekblad on the Panthers.
“I thought, oh, man, I’m playing with a rookie, I need to watch out for him the whole night,” Campbell said. “It affected me more, and he was great right from the beginning. (Forsling) is going to be great from the beginning, so I’m not worried about him one bit out there.”
The Hawks have also been careful to put Forsling in positions that won’t cause them to worry – he did not have any defensive-zone starts in his first two games, according to hockey-reference.com. Forsling said he needs to work on his defensive game, but the Hawks like the offensive upside Forsling brings to their attack. And Bowman said Forsling has the right attitude to further his improvement.
“It’s only been a short sample here, but I like the way he’s been resilient,” Bowman said. “He’s got a lot of growth to his game, so being around our players and around our coaches is going to pay off as the year goes on.”
Forsling has been good enough to supplant Trevor van Riemsdyk in the pecking order so far this season. That may not last, but the more Forsling plays, the Hawks feel the better he will become.
“You have to be on your toes all the time,” Forsling said. “If you relax, someone is skating around you.”
But so far there hasn’t been much of that happening to him.