CHICAGO -- Viktor Stalberg already appears to be winning over the hearts of Chicago Blackhawk fans -- especially the female fans.
But it's the Hawks' brass that the 24-year old, 6-foot-3, 210-pound Swedish forward hopes to have swooning over him in about a month, come training camp. After coming to Chicago in the trade that sent fan-favorite forward Kris Versteeg to Toronto, Stalberg hopes to ride the wave of hockey madness in this city to stardom in a different Original Six destination.
"Just looking at this event here, you can see how many fans they have and that there's a big interest," Stalberg said of the Hawks' sold-out annual fan convention this weekend at the Chicago Hilton. "I'm planning to be ready for camp and hopefully will get a chance to play a lot this year."
As long as he does what he did down the stretch of last season in Toronto, he probably will. Stalberg played in 40 games last season for the Maple Leafs, scoring 9 goals and 14 points with a minus-13 rating. He brings a physical presence with his good size and skating ability, and would like to eventually become more than just a grinder.
"I think I proved that I can play at the (NHL) level, but I've got a lot of development to do to become the kind of player I want to be," he said. "I don't want to settle for being a third- or fourth-line guy."
He said assessing last season for him should include dividing the season in half. In the first half, his play was about as erratic as his ice time -- before the Leafs made a trade to free up more playing time for youngsters like him.
"After the big trade, we kind of had a new team and I got to play a lot more," Stalberg said. "I played the last 20 or so games and really felt comfortable out there and played a lot better."
No worries -- If they weren't veterans used to the business side of hockey, Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell might have been nervous wrecks this off-season, wondering when they'd be traded.
Sharp's name has come up repeatedly throughout the season as a potential trade target because of his $3.9 million a season salary-cap figure, while Campbell's has come up more recently for his $7.15 million price tag.
The Hawks are clearly in a bit of a bind trying to stay under the League's $59.4 million hard salary cap, and moving pricey contracts for more affordable players is often the subject of trade speculation.
"I talked to (Hawks GM Stan Bowman), and I wasn't worried about it for whatever reason," said Sharp, who was told he wouldn't be traded by Bowman this summer. "My name kept popping up, but I just took that as a compliment that maybe other teams out there were interested."
Campbell has a simple method for dealing with those rumors, as well.
"I go work out in the morning and go get ready for a season," he said. "I'm a Blackhawk and I would like to continue to be one, so I'm getting ready for training camp. That's about all you can do."
Bring on the pressure -- All the recent talk about the Blackhawks "core group" has done two things: set that handful of players apart as integral to any hopes the team has of competing for the Stanley Cup and place added pressure on them to carry the load next season and beyond.
After eight former teammates were either traded away or not re-signed this off-season in salary-cap decisions, the "core group" led by Jonathan Toews, 22, and Patrick Kane, 21, will now be looked to for even more big plays. That group also includes Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Olympic gold medalist Brent Seabrook, star forward Marian Hossa, center Dave Bolland, center Patrick Sharp and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Kane said he's looking forward to the added responsibility.
"You like that pressure," he said. "You want to be relied on to score more goals and score more points and make it an even better year. It's exciting to have that pressure on you. Everyone wants more ice time, every wants to play and be on the ice. I look at it like it's a great opportunity."