Blackhawks

Antti Raanta and Scott Darling paved the way, Is Anton Forsberg next?

Antti Raanta and Scott Darling paved the way, Is Anton Forsberg next?

You won’t find a lot regarding Anton Forsberg’s NHL playing experience, because there isn’t much there.

The goaltender the Blackhawks acquired as part of the Brandon Saad trade on Friday has just 10 NHL regular-season games to his credit and he admits, “the numbers aren’t great when I played.” Forsberg had a 4.02 goals-against average in those 10 games, which he played from 2014-17 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But little NHL experience isn’t necessarily a problem for a backup goalie, especially one recruited by the Blackhawks. Their last two backups, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, had no experience entering their time in Chicago. Both did great here and are now getting opportunities elsewhere.

Now Forsberg hopes to be the latest backup goalie success story for the Blackhawks. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, a few hours after completing the deal with Columbus, that Forsberg, “has earned the right to be an NHL goalie.”

“We’re optimistic about Anton’s potential,” Bowman said on Friday. “We like his profile as a goalie. He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of net, has that mobility and makes good positional saves as well as athletic saves. A year ago, led his team to the Calder Cup championships, so he knows what it’s like to put a team on his back. It was the AHL, but he’s had a lot of success there.”

Forsberg has done well in the AHL, leading the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters to the 2016 Calder Cup title. In that postseason Forsberg had 10 appearances, going 9-0 with a 1.34 GAA and .949 save percentage. The 24-year-old said the entire season, from start to championship finish, was a learning experience.

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“It felt like the team, the whole time, grew. We had some tough parts during the season, too, but once we got everything together we started winning and gained confidence. Same for me. I had a tough start, grew during the season and got better and better,” Forsberg said. “Once I got the chance in the playoffs, I felt good about myself and learned with experience. It’s a different type of game in the playoffs. It’s tougher, faster and harder. Just the whole experience with the games and the atmosphere, it was a fun time.”

So let’s get back to the Blackhawks’ recent successful track record on backup goaltenders. Raanta had no experience playing in North America before the Blackhawks signed him entering the 2013-14 season. While he had his ups and downs on the road he was stellar at the United Center (in his career, he’s 15-0-3 with a .945 save percentage there). The Blackhawks took a gamble on Darling, who went from journeyman minor-league goaltender to Stanley Cup winner with them. Darling’s first NHL game didn’t come until he signed with the Blackhawks (October 2014); despite the lack of NHL experience, he and Corey Crawford formed a tremendous tandem.

Now the Blackhawks’ depth, especially at defense, was stronger during Raanta and Darling’s time here. But both had their share of goaltending victories and the lack of experience didn’t hurt either of them.

Forsberg didn’t have much of a chance to win the backup role while with the Blue Jackets. He’ll get that chance now that he’s in Chicago. Experience? No, there’s not much of it at this level. But the Blackhawks have done a good job lately in finding those guys who made the most of the NHL backup goalie opportunity once they did get it. Forsberg hopes to be the next to do that.

“I feel I put up some good things [in the AHL] and with the Calder Cup two years ago and I feel I gained a lot of experience,” Forsberg said. “I’m ready to take the next step.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.