As Stars players and prospects skate in Frisco preparing for training camp, it is not unusual for a fan or Stars employee watching the informal skates to bring up the 22-year-old Klingberg, who joined the informal sessions last week.
“When I talk to people his name always comes up,” said Chris Wilson, one of the Stars fans who has made it out to Frisco. “They remember him from last year (training camp/preseason) and are looking forward to seeing him again.”
Fans have heard a lot about Klingberg, but last year’s preseason was one of the few chances to see him. Since being drafted four years ago, Klingberg has spent most of his time playing in Europe. He’s made a few forays into North America, attending development camps, playing a few games for the Texas Stars and skating for Dallas at the 2013 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. Then there was last year’s training camp, where he got into an NHL preseason game, and caught the attention of fans and impressed Stars coach Lindy Ruff.
“He’s really good at moving the puck,” Ruff said during camp last year. “I hate to put a lot of pressure on the kid, but he’s got some mannerisms of (Ottawa’s Erik) Karlsson, the way he skates and the way he moves the puck. He made some D zone plays that only real special players can make.”
Ruff echoed what people in Stars management felt as they watched Klingberg develop over the last four years.
“He has skill, poise, and a feel for the game offensively. He’s got high-end puck presence. He’s slippery, elusive. He has all those elements,” Stars assistant GM Les Jackson once said. “He has instincts and skill you can’t teach.”
Plus, Klingberg is a right-shot, something the left-shot heavy Stars need. And he can run a power play, and that’s another plus.
And now that Klingberg is ready to come to North America on a full-time basis this season and begin the push for NHL playing time, the buzz volume meter is rising.
The 22-year-old Swede’s jump to North America is something neither he nor the Stars rushed. Klingberg could have made the move last year, but he wanted to get one good year in the Swedish Hockey League under his belt after experiencing a few bumps along the road in his development.
In 2011-12, he decided to move from Sweden to play in Finland’s top league. It didn’t go well. He got homesick and ended up returning to Sweden midway through the season.
“I was pretty young and it was the first time I was moving away from my parents. How it turned out over there was my fault,” Klingberg said last year at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. “I wasn’t having any fun at all and was feeling sorry for myself. I think the experience is going to help me in the future.”
In 2012-13, he missed the first part of the season in Sweden due to offseason hip surgery, but he played well when he returned and helped Skelleftea win the league championship.
But Klingberg still felt something was missing before he could make the jump to the long grind of a North American season, and that was that one good, full season in Sweden after having two seasons cut short. He accomplished that goal in 2013-14.
“I thought I could come over last year, but I didn’t have a whole good season in Sweden. I think I got that last year,” Klingberg said. “I had a pretty big role on my team, played a lot of minutes. I am happy about that.”
Klingberg made the most of those minutes, tying for fifth among SHL defensemen with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 50 games for Frolunda. He ranked 10th in the league with 18 power play points (nine goals, nine assists). He led his team and ranked 10th in the league in ice time at 21:47 per game.
“He was really good,” said Sweden-based Stars scout Rickard Oquist. “He was one of the better players in the league. He was actually outstanding.”
Klingberg joined the Texas Stars late last season, played three games and then hurt his knee. The Stars decided to shut him down for the season and have him undergo surgery in April to clean up issues with his hips.
“It’s something he could have played with for one or two years, but we decided to take care of it now,” said Stars GM Jim Nill.
Klingberg started skating in July and Nill listed him at about 90 percent last week.
“It’s getting better,” Klingberg said after his first skate in Frisco last week. “It’s not a full recovery yet, but I feel pretty good. The skate today felt good. It was the best skate so far, so I am happy about that.”
Klingberg believes he’ll be ready for training camp, where he is expected to get a good look for NHL playing time. Klingberg, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka are the four young defensemen the Stars are counting on to come in and push for a roster spot this season.
Time will tell if Klingberg is ready. He may need more time to get acclimated to playing in North America, and that could mean some seasoning in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars. Klingberg said last year’s training camp/preseason experience and his other trips to this side of the globe helped start the acclimation process.
“It helped a lot,” he said. “I am happy that I know a little bit more about what is going to happen now.”
Klingberg has come a long way over the last four years. He’s cut down on the mistakes as he tries to generate offense. He has improved his defensive play. He has bulked up, adding size and strength. Those areas remain on his improvement checklist as he targets the NHL.
“First thing I want to do is be healthy. The second thing is to keep doing offensive stuff, but do it on the right place on the ice. Maybe get a harder shot as well,” Klingberg said. “I want to work on my defensive game, which I think got a lot better last year. And get stronger of course. That’s the key part. Everybody says you have to be stronger.”
When the Stars drafted Klingberg he was listed at 6-0, 157 pounds and if you saw him back then you might think the weight included all his hockey gear. Klingberg said he weighs in now at 83 kilograms, which is about 183 pounds. He’s grown and inch or two, as well.
“Someday I will be like Nemo (Nemeth, who is 6-3/235 pounds),” Klingberg said with a laugh. “I’ll be a big Swede.”
What the Stars believe they have in Klingberg is a talented Swede who is close to becoming an NHL player, and they hope he’ll be a good one.
“He’s a very good player,” said Jackson. “I have a sense that he is not very far from the NHL.”
“I think it was a good move that he went back home and played one more year,” said Oquist. “I think he is ready to come over and I think he will be knocking on the door for the big team.”
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.