It wasn’t long ago that Viktor Stalberg was begging hockey people to let him play.
Now it may be the other way around.
Stalberg, chosen by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round, 161st overall in the 2006 draft, is gaining consideration for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player at an American college or university.
The school has even mounted a PickVik.com
publicity campaign complete with a website.
The list of 10 finalists will be announced Thursday.
“Viktor’s game is built on his skating” said Dave Morrison, the Leafs director of amateur scouting. “But he’s got good size (six-foot-three, two-hundred and four pounds) and he has really learned how to play a two-way game.”
His third season at the University of Vermont has been Stalberg’s breakthrough campaign. The 23-year-old leftwinger had 17 goals over his first two seasons. He has scored 22 this year alone and carded 18 assists in 34 games in the highly competitive Hockey East. He sits fourth in the nation in goalscoring.
Not bad for a player whose modest height, he was five-foot-nine late into his teen years, made him a marginal prospect.
“I played for an under-16 team in Sweden and I got cut,” he said. “I had to call coaches and ask if I could play on their team.” But the time outside the system benefitted Stalberg. His size caught up with his excellent skating and soon he was playing for three teams at once. “I got to play in double or triple the amount of games,” he said.
Stalberg ended up scoring 32 goals with Frolunda in 2006 and when some friends investigated Division III schools, Stalberg began looking at the American university system.
“It’s a different route for a Swedish player but I’ve taken different routes throughout my career. So far it has worked out.”
Last year was the first summer Stalberg spent in North America. He worked out three hours a day, five days a week with a strength coach
The off-season work helped him put some miles between this season and the frustrations of the first two years at Vermont.
“Feeling that I was getting stronger helped my confidence,” he said. “Last year I would have one good game and then three or four bad ones. I felt frustrated. This year I started out with more confidence and it just kept growing.”
Former Catamounts include former Philadelphia star John LeClair, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lighting, Boston netminder Tim Thomas and current Marlie Jaime Sifers.
Stalberg's gaudy statistics extend past the hockey arena. He is carrying a 3.6 grade point average, one of the best of any student-athlete at Vermont.
Stalberg is studying business and this summer promises to offer a fascinating business lesson. Stalberg must navigate whether he wants to return to Vermont or study any contract proposal the Leafs might tender.
“That’s obviously something I haven’t decided,” he said. “As soon as the season here is done, I will figure out the best way to take.”