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Stars' Klingberg playing at level that belies his age

by Steve Hunt

FRISCO, Texas -- John Klingberg is not your average rookie.

Through 39 games, the Dallas Stars defenseman has 10 goals and 18 assists. He has points in three straight games; included in that run is two assists in a 3-2 loss at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, already his eighth multipoint game in the NHL.

A fifth-round pick (No. 131) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Klingberg, 22, who also has a plus-10 rating, has showcased a dazzling array of offensive skills, among them a deadly shot from distance and the vision to deliver a pinpoint pass to set up a teammate at the perfect time.

He'll have a chance to add to those numbers when the Stars visit the Boston Bruins on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, SN1).

On Jan. 31 Klingberg had a career-high two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win at the Winnipeg Jets. That capped a month that saw him finish with five goals and eight assists in 13 games.

But the young Swede is taking such early success in stride, focusing more on how he can continue improving instead of resting on what he's already accomplished.

"I didn't think it was going to be this good," Klingberg said of the start to his NHL career. "I felt after a few games when I got up here that I could play up here. Obviously been able to score some points too. That's just a bonus for me. I just try to keep it simple, play good defense so the coaches know they can trust me."

Klingberg's early offensive numbers are impressive, but he remains focused on his defensive responsibilities first. He realizes that as long as he handles those duties effectively, the offense will follow.

It's an approach that has worked thus far, leading some to compare him to another young, talented Swedish defenseman -- Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson, the winner of the 2012 Norris Trophy as the League's top defenseman.

For five seasons Dallas center Jason Spezza was teammates with Karlsson in Ottawa. Spezza said he sees similarities and differences between Karlsson and Klingberg.

"[Karlsson] does a lot more with his feet than [Klingberg]," Spezza said. "He's more of a skater up and down, more dynamic that way, but I think their hockey sense is very similar; the way they walk the line, the patience, they both have, that little half-wrister that gets through from the point. I'm sure that John tries to copy a lot of what Erik has had success doing too, so that's probably why they have a lot of similarities."

Klingberg's NHL play came after he started the season with Texas of the American Hockey League. He had four goals and eight assists in 10 AHL games; he made his NHL debut Nov. 11, 2014 at the Arizona Coyotes.

His first NHL goal came nine days later, also against the Coyotes. Since then Klingberg has been making headlines for his offense. But to his teammates and coach Lindy Ruff, what impresses them most is his incredible poise, something which belies his age.

"I guess the answer's yes [his poise has been surprising] because I've played him with and against some real good personnel and he's been able to handle the tough going," Ruff said. "He's been able to handle a lot of the pressure situations. That's pretty impressive for a first-year defenseman."

His teammates call Klingberg mild-mannered and fearless, and feel that poise is just part of his easy-going personality. But Klingberg sees that quiet confidence as coming mostly from growing up in Sweden and adopting the overall approach great defensemen from there seem to share.

"I think I always wanted to play hockey, not just get in the corner and pump it off the glass and out. That's something that we've been able to practice a lot back in Sweden," Klingberg said. "You see there's a lot of young defensemen, like Karlsson, [Jonas] Brodin and those guys that play some good hockey too, that want to play the puck instead of just throwing it away."

Like many rookies, Klingberg has absorbed all the sage advice he can from his veteran teammates. For much of his time in the NHL he has been skating alongside Alex Goligoski on the Stars' second defensive pairing. Goligoski has been a great source of information.

"Obviously, [Goligoski] has been a great influence," Klingberg said. "He's a guy that if I want to know something I know that I can go to him and ask. Of course that's been a lot of help. There's a lot of veterans, older guys on this team that are helpful."

John Klingberg
Defense - DAL
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 28
SOG: 62 | +/-: 10

Helping ease Klingberg's transition to the NHL is something Goligoski takes pride in while also being in awe of his new teammate's ability to make highlight-reel plays on a regular basis.

"He's so calm out there," Goligoski said. "Nothing really rattles him and he goes out and plays the same way no matter what. He's got some special skill and we're seeing that."

Not only has Klingberg held his own at the blue line and in the offensive end, but his poise and confidence have led Ruff to using him on the point on the Stars' top power-play unit.

Initially Klingberg struggled with that responsibility and Ruff replaced him, but after recently returning him to that spot Ruff has liked what he has seen.

"I think his decisions are a lot quicker than the last time around," Ruff said. "Some of the decisions he was making before were individual decisions. Now he's making good reads and he's making good decisions. I think he realizes when he makes those decisions his reward is he gets to play with that unit. That's a pretty good place for him. I like him there. I think he is our power-play quarterback of the future."

That tough love from Ruff, where he will tear down a young player and then build him back up, is something Klingberg feels has benefitted him greatly.

"He's pushing me every day," Klingberg said of Ruff. "He wants me to play good defense first and I think he's right because if I play good defense the offense is going to be there. He has to trust me when I'm out there as a young guy. He's been a good influence."

Klingberg has impressed with his offensive skills, poise and sense of quiet confidence. The last two qualities make him appear older than he is.

One of his teammates, veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, the Stars' longest-tenured player, sees flashes of a former teammate and a key member of the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup championship team every time he watches Klingberg on the ice.

"He's pretty quiet," Daley said. "He's very confident. He's got that good confidence about him where it's not cocky at all. It's just that confidence that he's not afraid to make a mistake out there.

"He's got it. For our Dallas fans, he's probably the closest I've ever seen to Sergei Zubov come through here."

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