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Martin Erat is worth parting with Filip Forsberg’s potential

Filip Forsberg was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

After a long wait, the Washington Capitals finally let the hockey world know they traded Filip Forsberg, a highly regarded prospect from Sweden and the 11th overall pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, to the Nashville Predators for veteran winger Martin Erat and minor leaguer Michael Latta.

And people were not happy about it.

Trading first-round picks is never easy, but keeping them is no guarantee of future success, either. That includes those as highly touted as Forsberg, who was named to the World Junior all-star team this year.

Look at the average production of the first-round picks out of either Swedish league and I think you will agree:

Year GP G A Pts Sh
Rookie 39 7 7 14 54
2nd 46 8 12 20 68
3rd 68 11 20 31 110
4th 68 13 19 32 105

Even Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, included in the group above, did not have much impact in his first three seasons. So while the early reports on Forsberg were glowing, keep in mind that it is still all a guess about future potential. Plus, if a team’s scouting department unanimously agrees to trade a first rounder after just 11 months in the system, you have to think the payoff at the NHL level will either take longer than expected or not be as great as originally thought.

Erat, on the other hand, is a legitimate top-six forward who is also a left-handed shot – and that was a glaring need on this roster. His boxcar stats may not be eye-popping (four goals and 17 assists in 36 games) but Erat has shown an ability to create offensive opportunities when taking defensive-zone starts or matching up against the opponent’s top-six forwards. In fact, Nashville saw 50 percent of the even-strength shots in its favor (Fenwick percentage) this season despite starting in the defensive zone a majority of the time. With the exception of Wojtek Wolski, that is better than any other southpaw left wing who has spent time on the top line with Ovechkin:

Wojtek Wolski 56.0%
Martin Erat 50.1%
Matt Hendricks 48.5%
Aaron Volpatti 47.4%
Marcus Johansson 46.8%
Jason Chimera 44.9%

Erat played 2:41 per night on the power play, second only to Patric Hornqvist among forwards in Nashville, where four of his five assists had been the primary setup pass. That unit’s productivity has dipped the past six games (just one for 16 opportunities), but have faith that Coach Adam Oates will be able to assimilate Erat into one of the league’s top units.

The Capitals are just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the Southeast Division lead and needed a higher level of talent on the wing to help put them into the playoff picture. They acquired it without having to give up a roster player. I’d say that’s not a bad deal, even if it does mean parting with potential.