Every year there are some European prospects that decide to make the move to North America as junior players in hopes of increasing their odds to be scouted by NHL clubs. These players either play major junior hockey in the CHL, go straight to NCAA hockey, or ply their trade in juniors in the USHL prior to a college career. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is a young Swedish prospect that has chosen the USHL route before he heads off to Boston University for the 2015-16 season.
Who is Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson?
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, also known as JFK, is a right handed center from Stockholm, Sweden that was born on 10/31/96. The Omaha Lancers have the Boston University commit listed at 6'1" and 192 lbs. According to Elite Prospects, Forsbacka Karlsson spent his youth days in the Hammarby IF system, then moved on to the Nacka HK organization, and then spent his final season in Sweden with Linköping's U18 and U20 teams. The young forward then made the move to North America to play for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL in 2013-14 and has now completed his second succesful year with the club. He is currently committed to Boston University for the 2015-16 season. As you will see below on his stats table powered by Elite Prospects, he also has a fair amount of experience representing Sweden on the international stage. I've also included some additional stats from his two USHL seasons.
According to Elite Prospects, Forsbacka Karlsson finished 7th in points among U17 players in the 2012-13 SuperElit league, behind names like William Nylander, his teammate Jakub Vrana, David Pastrnak, and Kevin Fiala. In his debut USHL season in 2013-14, he finished tied 17th among U18 players in points. This past season saw him finish 11th in points among U19 players in the USHL. He also led Omaha in assists, points, EV assists, EV points, PP assists, and NHLe.
I really like seeing that he was able to improve on his goals, assists, and shots per game rate in 10 fewer games this past season compared to his rookie season. I also find it encouraging to see that he does most of his damage at even strength but judging by his power play assist total, he seems to be a real threat with the man-advantage. Being just over a point per game in his age 18 season and nearly doubling his NHLe to a solid 23 is also a nice step in the right direction. To compare his NHLe to another Devils prospect and USHL alum, Blake Coleman, Forsbacka Karlsson put up a 23 to Coleman's 11 in their first eligible draft year.
Finally, his NHL prospect page has a list of his favorite team, athletes, and entertainment. He mentions the Red Hot Chili Peppers as his favorite music group and the greatest Swede of all-time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as his favorite non-hockey athlete.
What Others Say About Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
Central Scouting ranked Forsbacka Karlsson as the 31st best North American skater in the draft. Craig Button of TSN had Forsbacka Karlsson ranked 59th overall in his April list. Back in March, Ryan Wagman of Hockey Prospectus, had the Devils selecting Forsbacka Karlsson with their 2nd pick of the 2nd round (41st overall). In a follow up article, Wagman gave this explanation on why the Devils would take Forsbacka Karlsson:
While Forsbacka-Karlsson lacks a wow-factor to his game, the Swedish import is an effective two way pivot who profiles well as a second or third pairing center at the highest level. He was one of the top play-makers in the USHL in his draft year.
Curtis Joe of Elite Prospects seems to agree with the assessment that Forsbacka Karlsson is a playmaker as he had this to say on the prospect:
A player who has worked hard at his all-around game, but needs to gain more consistency. That being said, he can be an offensively effective center; possesses a high level of hockey intelligence and plays with intensity. A smooth, yet not dynamic skater. An excellent passer; can turn a "nothing doing" play into a scoring chance.
Consistency isn't something that worries me much at this point as he is still developing and his end of the season numbers seem fine. I love reading that he has high hockey intelligence which he utilizes with strong passing skills. I suppose it's no surprise that he finished 8th in the USHL in assists last season.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports ranked Forsbacka Karlsson 47th overall for this year's draft. Kerr also praised his playmaking skills but went further into his game, reporting on his shot, forechecking skills, skating, and defensive game. A couple of things that stand out to me:
He has good stickhandling, and uses his size to protect the puck down low, working well in that cycle and maintaining possession for his team. Forsbacka-Karlsson is very effective on the forecheck, forcing defenders to rush plays and make mistakes.
He is very good in the face-off circle, winning draws in both the offensive and defensive zone. He is a top penalty killer for the Lancers, and shows very good anticipation and the ability to cut down passing lanes with his long and active stick.
So far, I like what I'm reading. A defensively sound center, that can use his size effectively, while being able to create some offense is really intriguing. I also find it encouraging that while he isn't the fastest skater, he is strong on his skates and good at retaining possession of the puck in board battles.
Finally, popular Swedish hockey site, Hockeysverige, had this blurb on Forsbacka Karlsson a few days ago (google translated):
The former LHC the Center, with roots in Stockholm, has a really good season behind him in the US, college preparatory junior league USHL. He incised more than one point per game there, but is particularly popular with the scouts because of their defensive characteristics. "JFK" is a classic Swedish two-way center that does not stand out offensively, but that is good in the face-off circle, stable in short-handed and uses his game inside to reduce the time and area of their opponents: "An honest player, very good defensively. Without the puck, he is very good, "said one of THN's surveyed scouts.
A Little Video
First, here is an overtime winning goal by Forsbacka Karlsson, where he reads the play, stays composed, and picks his spot to beat the goaltender:
Next, here is an assist by Forsbacka Karlsson on an overtime winning goal in February. He is able to steal a puck in the neutral zone, use his size to maintain possession deep into the offensive zone, and then fire a quick pass into the slot for an open teammate, showing off his hockey IQ.
This next video has two goals by Forsbacka Karlsson starting off with a nice backhander that beats the goaltender. The second goal features a nice deke that can also be clearly seen in the GIF below:
An Opinion of Sorts
I'd be satisfied if the Devils were to take JFK in the second round. I would prefer to see the Devils use their second pick of the round on him (#41) instead of their first (#36) since their should be some players with a higher offensive upside available in the beginning of the round. Either way I'd be happy if the Devils were to select this player.
Forsbacka Karlsson already has a nice frame and he may even fill out more. He's a right handed center that is responsible defensively and possesses playmaking skills in the offensive end which makes him very attractive for a Devils organization that is in desperate need of adding quality to the forward prospect pool. I like that he has experience in both the European and North American game at the club level as well as a fair amount of international experience representing Sweden. It's a diverse background that not a lot of prospects have at his age. Sure, he may not have a high offensive ceiling, but all the tools seem to be there for him to turn out into a solid 2nd/3rd line center at the NHL level if he is able to keep progressing. In my opinion, a player like him would be a welcome addition to the prospect pool.
What do you think of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson's game? Do you think he will be able to translate it to the pro's eventually? How much of an offensive threat do you think he could be at the next level? Would you be satisfied if the Devils selected him with one of their two second round picks? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!