Friday evening in Pittsburgh, 10 teams had already made their first selections in the 2012 NHL Draft and the Washington Capitals were on the clock.
Shots of the Caps' draft table showed General Manager George McPhee and several scouts huddled closely as they plotted their move, taking as much time as they possibly could, which prompted a friendly reminder from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"Washington, you're on the clock," he said. "Let's go."
With that, McPhee walked up to the podium and announced the Caps' first pick: Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.
So what took them long?
“We didn’t expect Forsberg to be there at all," McPhee said. “In most mock drafts that we had done and where our scouts had him was way up high. Sometimes that happens, a good player falls because everybody’s sort of zoned in on a certain guy and people were going after defensemen and drafted a lot of good defensemen. So we focused on mostly defensemen. 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.’ ”
McPhee was not alone in his incredulity; Forsberg was one of the highest-rated forward prospects in this year's draft, even topping NHL Central Scouting's list as the best European Skater available. But a defense-heavy draft class that saw eight defensemen picked in the top 10 pushed Forsberg down to No. 11.
"I would lie if I said I wasn't nervous," Forsberg said Friday.
Yet, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Caps. The 17-year-old Swede scored eight goals and added nine assists in 43 games for Leksand in the second division of Sweden's senior league, the second-highest level of professional hockey in the country. At 6'2" and 181 pounds, scouts summarize Forsberg as a power forward with an excellent shot and a willingness to sacrifice his body for the good of his team. TSN scout Craig Button's analysis of Forsberg on its draft rankings was perhaps the most poignant, saying that "with a playmaking center, he could be a prolific scorer in the NHL."
"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," Forsberg said. "Hopefully I can bring that with me when the time is ready for me to come over."
That time will not be next season; Forsberg has one more year remaining on his contract with his current club and plans on honoring that commitment while also developing into a more complete player. The Caps, just like any team in any sport preparing for the future (and as they did with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson), will have to wait and see if the old adage that "good things come to those who wait" is indeed true with their top draft pick.
Yet, despite that and the fact that he took his time to officially select Forsberg Friday, McPhee knew that the Caps may have chosen a player that could become a focal point of their future plans.
“At the table, the scouts were unanimous: ‘We have to take this guy, he’s a fantastic player,’ ” McPhee said. “I tried to give them other options to play devil’s advocate with it, but it was an easy one.”
Thanks to SB Nation D.C.'s Ted Starkey for providing the audio.