Blackhawks

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.”