PITTSBURGH — The clock was ticking on the Washington Capitals on Friday night in the first round of the NHL draft. Five minutes felt like hours, and commissioner Gary Bettman even implored: “Washington, you’re on the clock. Let’s go.” General manager George McPhee and his scouts conversed long after the warning as time melted away.
It must’ve felt even longer for Filip Forsberg, once considered a possibility to go in the top three but still in his seat at Consol Energy Center as defensemen kept coming off the board. But then the pick finally came in, with the Caps making Forsberg the 11th overall selection.
“I [don’t] look at it as a disappointment at all because it’s like a dream coming true being drafted, and hopefully I can make the team in some years,” Forsberg said. “I’ll be working hard to be a part of the Capitals‘ organization in the coming years.”
Forsberg, a physical power forward with a North American style to his game, will make the Capitals wait for the reward. He has one year left on his contract with Leksands IF of the junior league in Sweden, so he’ll fulfill that commitment.
“That’s my plan for next year. Then I’m not sure,” said Forsberg, who had eight goals and 17 points in 43 games this past season. “We’ll see. Hopefully, I can have a good season and then everything can happen.”
McPhee admitted he didn’t talk to Forsberg much leading up to the draft because he legitimately didn’t expect him to be available at No. 11, the pick the Caps acquired in the Semyon Varlamov trade. The 17-year-old center was ranked as the top European skater by NHL Central Scouting, whose Dan Marr compared his style to that of Brendan Shanahan.
“I’m kind of big-sized player and trying to play a bit physical and also taking the puck to the net as often as possible. I guess that’s a big more North American style of game than European,” Forsberg said. “Hopefully, I can bring that with me when the time is ready for me to come over.”
Thanks to a run on defenseman, eight of the top 10 and seven in a row, the Caps got someone they think could be a gem, even if it takes a year or two.
“We focused on mostly defensemen,” McPhee said. “So when we got there, we thought, ‘Geez, we’ve got to switch gears here a little bit; this guy’s a really good player, let’s take him.’”
“I try to give them other options, just to play devil’s advocate and everything else,” he said. “But it was an easy one.”
Forsberg, naturally, was all smiles. That is, after he got over the waiting game.
“I would lie if I said I wasn’t nervous. Yeah, I was pretty nervous. But I’m glad to have my family with me there,” he said. “It was a good day for me and also for them.”
The Caps already have a couple of prominent Swedes in their lineup in Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, and Mattias Sjogren hopes to make the team out of camp. Forsberg was glad to be joining that kind of group, but he conceded that he understands things can change by the time he gets to the NHL.
Forsberg didn’t sound like he was in any rush, but given his talent it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to challenge for a spot in the 2013-14 season.
“Most of these guys need a year or two anyway. It’d be nice if he was ready in a year,” McPhee said. “Backstrom was ready in a year, Johansson was ready in a year. That would be nice if that worked out.”
All in good time, of course. The Caps took theirs with the 16th pick as well before selecting Thomas Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound right wing from the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Wilson, whom ex-coach Dale Hunter talked up, is known for using his size in hitting, fighting and going hard to the net. The forward had nine goals, 27 points and 141 penalty minutes in 49 games this past season.
“I think most noticeably for me it’s my big, physical game. I’m a big power forward and create space for my linemates,” Wilson said. “I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it, but I think I got some offensive potential to come the next few years.”
That was the idea with the pick, and the Caps liked him enough that McPhee fended off multiple calls to trade it.
“Big, tough kid. It’s going to take a lot of work to get him where we need him, but he certainly plays hard and plays tough,” McPhee said. “There’s a chance he can be a pretty effective player. We get a guy that can play, and he’s tough, too, it’s a harder and harder thing to find in our league now. But this guy might be able to do it.”