Stars defenseman John Klingberg arrived in Dallas this week and said he is excited to be back. There’s plenty to be excited about. Klingberg is coming off a stellar rookie season in the NHL that earned him a long-term contract with the club. And there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the team after GM Jim Nill made another round of big offseason moves.
“It’s great to be back here. I want to start up. I have been looking forward to it,” Klingberg said. “I want everything to start up because I am excited for this year.”
Along with hockey, Klingberg also has some house hunting on his agenda. Understandable when you have a seven-year, $29.75 million contract in your pocket. The Stars signed Klingberg to the deal just after last season concluded. Klingberg admitted he wasn’t expecting seven years.
“I was a little bit surprised. I thought maybe a two-year or three-year deal, somewhere there,” Klingberg said. “I talked to my agent, and he said Jim wanted to make a long-term deal, and I was really surprised. I was happy because I knew they were happy with how I played and wanted to sign me for a long time. It’s exciting when you know they trust you, and they think you can be a good player.”
Klingberg, who turned 23 last month, was highly touted as he made the transition from Sweden to North America last season. There was a chance he could have started 2014-15 in the NHL, but he was coming off hip surgery and still wasn’t up to speed in training camp. But when the Stars called recalled him from the AHL early in the season he was everything they expected and more, turning plenty of heads along the way. Klingberg not only shined on the offensive side of the puck, but he impressed in his own end as well.
“I didn’t expect that,” Nill said after signing Klingberg back in April. “I thought he would have more trouble defensively, and he didn’t. He’s got great hockey sense; he’s got a great stick and a great feel for the game. I knew he had elite talent offensively, but I didn’t realize how good he would be defensively. And that is only going to get better as he matures.
“He’s someone we are building the backend of our defense on. We think he is going to be a major part of our foundation as we build this team moving forward.”
Klingberg, a fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, led all NHL rookie defensemen in scoring with 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 65 games. He ranked third among rookie defensemen in average ice time at 21:50 per game. He finished fifth in voting for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top rookie, and he was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team. There were a few bumps along the way, but Klingberg put it all in the positive column.
“I learned a lot, it was a lot of good experience last year,” Klingberg said. “With the good start I had and then the little bounce back and then to come back again, I think I played pretty good the whole year. I can’t put a finger on it, but I learned a lot the last year. It was a good year, and I am excited to start up again this year.”
Klingberg is excited about the team’s offseason moves, which included the additions of goaltender Antti Niemi, forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya. Both Sharp and Oduya are coming off a Stanley Cup championship with Chicago.
“Getting a guy like Sharp, he is one more goal scorer and one more point maker, so that is going to be good for us. On paper, we look really good,” Klingberg said. “With Oduya coming in here that is the kind of D we really need and want. That’s going to be exciting. I don’t know Oduya personally, but I heard he is a good mentor for young guys. For me and Nemo (Patrik Nemeth), it’s going to be exciting to have him as a veteran Swede. Those two players won the Cup, so it is going to be good for us.”
Klingberg echoed his teammates in saying the Stars need to start this coming season playing the way they finished last season, including a strong commitment to defense.
“We talked about that at a season-ending meeting. We have to be good defense first because we know we have players who can put up points, so we have to be responsible with the defense first,” he said.
Klingberg’s offseason included playing for Sweden at the World Championship in Czech Republic, where he had six points (two goals, four assists) in seven games. There were two weeks of vacation time and then back to work. The weather wasn’t great in Sweden, and that was a good thing.
“All of July was rainy and cold, so it was perfect staying inside to practice and work out,” he said.
The slender Klingberg is always trying to bulk up a little, and he said he added a few pounds over the summer. Asked about his current weight, Klingberg just laughed and indicated he was keeping close tabs.
“I don’t want to be too big,” he said. “I don’t want to lose my skating.”
For now, he’s joined a growing number of Dallas players who are holding informal skates in Frisco, just waiting to get started when training camp begins in Cedar Park later this month.
“It’s been a good summer, just a little bit too long I think,” Klingberg said. “I am excited to be back here now.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.