From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
When Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed out of BU after his sophomore season, the expectation might have been that he’d quickly be in the NHL based on his two-way abilities and the maturity to his game at the NCAA ranks. That hasn’t happened for the 21-year-old center prospect to this point, but it could happen soon after a solid rookie campaign at the AHL level with 15 goals and 32 points in 58 games. Consider JFK one of the Bruins prospects close to an NHL breakthrough at this point after getting more accustomed to the speed and physicality last season.
COUNTDOWN TO BRUINS CAMP
What Happened Last Year: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson didn’t make much of an impression during NHL training camp, and then went to Providence where he began to gather experience and log development time. There were injuries and slow periods, but Forsbacka Karlsson finished with a very strong 15 goals and 32 points of production in 58 games while centering Providence’s second line. Forsbacka gained valuable experience playing in all situations, sharpening his defensive skills and face-off abilities against improved competition, and built up enough in his own game to be much more competitive next time around in camp. A concussion knocked JFK out for most of the last six weeks of the season, however, and that put an unfortunate pause on what was a pretty strong opening campaign in the pros.
Questions To Be Answered This Season: The only real question about JFK is whether he’s going to be ready to step up and seize the third line center job after the departure of free agent Riley Nash. The Bruins appear to be throwing a number of players into the mix for the third line center job with Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom all being considered for the job, and young prospects in JFK and Trent Frederic readying for their big NHL chances as well. The question is whether JFK is ready to handle the physicality and speed at the NHL level where much is expected out of a third line center right out of the bat, or whether another half-season of AHL development time would be more beneficial for the 21-year-old former college player.
In Their Words: “It’s likely internal at this point, yes, and we have some very strong candidates. We have some young players that certainly want that slot, and we have a couple of guys internally that I think can move up and play that slot. At times when Anaheim was really injured at the first part of the year, Chris Wagner played in third-line roles, more of a shutdown situation, which we’ve used our players as. Sean Kuraly is certainly a player that wants to have a bigger role, and then you have the three younger players (including Forsbacka Karlsson) that we feel [can compete], and we also have a couple of other guys that we’ve added to the group that we’re going to go to work with and see where they fit in.” – Don Sweeney, talking about the third-line center competition headed into training camp.
Overall Outlook: The 21-year-old Forsbacka Karlsson will go as far in training camp as his play allows him to with the Bruins. If JFK has reached the point where he can compete for an NHL job as the third-line center, then the Bruins will be getting a skilled, smart and dedicated two-way center able to hold down a top-9 center position. If JFK clearly isn’t ready and still needs another season, or at least a half-year, of gained strength, improved conditioning and learning the ins and outs of the NHL world, then the Bruins will move to the next group of candidates including Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner among others. Third-line center is an important enough position that the Bruins will make sure their young guys are ready to go if called into battle, but they’re also hedging their bets with viable veteran options in case the kids need more development.