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Stars' Klingberg coming of age as two-way D-man

by Steve Hunt

FRISCO, Texas -- John Klingberg is making this look easy.

Through 20 games, the second-year Dallas Stars defenseman leads the NHL with 18 assists, is tied for the League lead with a plus-13 rating, and is tied for fourth with 22 points.

Not bad for someone who is 23 years old.

"Obviously [my start] has been pretty good offensively. I've been having a lot of assists, obviously playing with good players who score goals, and the power play has been good too," Klingberg said Friday.

A fifth-round pick (No. 131) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Klingberg is just over one year removed from his NHL debut. The young Swede led rookie defensemen last season with 40 points (11 goals) in 65 games and was named to the 2015 NHL All-Rookie Team.

Through 20 games, Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg leads the NHL with 18 assists, is tied for the League lead with a plus-13 rating and is tied for fourth with 22 points. (Photo: Glenn James/NHLI)

But so far this season he has taken his game, on the offensive and defensive end, to a new level. And Stars coach Lindy Ruff has a pretty good idea why.

"Well, for me it is his puck management, his decisions when leaving the zone, his decisions in the neutral zone, his decisions sometimes to keep it simple versus making it a real difficult situation for himself," Ruff said. "Those decisions come with living some tough lessons. He's vital to our attack, so there's to be mistakes along the way, but those mistakes have been few."

Klingberg didn't have to endure too many rookie rites of passage, but couldn't get in an elevator first and couldn't take food first. But one thing he did a lot of last season was play on the Dallas power play.

Klingberg started the season with the Stars' top unit but after struggling was sent to the second group. Later in the season, he performed so well in a second chance with the top unit that he remains its point man.

This season, the Dallas power play has been potent, converting 28.3 percent of the time, second-best in the League, and Klingberg, tied for second in the NHL with 10 power-play points (eight assists), has been a big part of that success.

"From last year to this year, [the difference] has obviously been playing with the first unit the whole year," Klingberg said. "I know what they want to do on the power play. I think they know what I'm doing on the power play too. We feel like we know each other there now."

Klingberg doesn't play on the Dallas penalty kill, but if that opportunity were to present itself he would equally embrace the role.

Another reason Klingberg attributes to his impressive start is being able to train without limits last offseason, something he was unable to do in 2014 because of hip surgery.

"I could practice harder and go harder in the gym too, so I feel a little bit stronger. That's why I feel like I've been a little bit better on the defensive end too," Klingberg said. "I don't feel I have gained so much weight, but I feel stronger, more experienced."

Klingberg has also benefited from being paired with a veteran defenseman, Alex Goligoski, who has helped him quickly learn the nuances of becoming a successful NHL defenseman.

Goligoski, the longest-tenured Dallas defenseman, sees his teammate's progression as coming from a simple bottom line.

"He's just out there making plays. He's seeing the ice so well and he's playing really confident. It's just kind of how his game's evolved," Goligoski said. "I think it's just he's taken a step offensively. It's just him being more comfortable, seeing teams more than once and just gaining experience."

Dallas has the NHL's best record (16-4-0) entering its game Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres (8 p.m. ET; MSG-B, BELL TV, FS-SW) and Klingberg has played a starring role.

But the young defenseman said the seeds for this run were planted during exit interviews last spring after Dallas failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We had a good second half of last season, but obviously the tough start hurt us last year, so we decided we needed a lot better start and to have a better home record. That is the kind of stuff we've been working hard at," Klingberg said. "I think [our home record (7-2-0)] has been a lot better. Obviously, a very good strength we have now is in tight games, on the road or at home, we have found a way to win."

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