“He’s been awesome,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski. “For his first few NHL games, that is as good as it can go. He’s playing a lot, and he’s playing confident. He should be. He’s a great player.”
"Just extremely smart out there,” said goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “Smart decisions with the puck. He's really strong with his stick. He's not the biggest guy, but he seems to come up with the puck in the corners. Just great hockey sense. … He’s been just unbelievable.”
Defense - DAL
Goals: 2 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 6
Shots: 8 | +/-: +3
Klingberg’s numbers are impressive over his first seven NHL games. The 22-year-old has registered six points (two goals, four assists) and a plus-three rating. Despite being around for only one-third of the season, he’s already third in scoring among rookie defensemen. He’s averaging 23:38 of ice time and he’s led the Stars in ice time in two of the seven games.
“I would lie if I didn’t say I was happy with how I’ve played,” Klingberg said. “I think that shows a little bit on the ice time, too. I get more comfortable with more playing time. Of course, I am happy.”
But there’s more to Klingberg than numbers. There are things he does that don’t show up on the score sheet. It’s that hockey sense Lehtonen mentioned. The ability to make plays under pressure to get pucks out of the defensive zone.
“I’m a big hockey sense guy. I love it,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “Guys that go back and get the puck with three guys on them and they make the right play. That might be a five-foot pass or a shot off the boards to get it out because they know they have to do it. They make the right plays under pressure. That’s what Klinger does.”
And it doesn’t hurt that Klingberg is a right-shot, something the Stars didn’t have in the lineup to start the season. Now, with Friday’s trade for Jason Demers, the Stars have two right-handed shots on the blue line.
“I think the puck moving, what Klingberg has added, the right-handed defenseman, I think everybody has seen the dividends,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “When I got involved in the Olympics, the No. 1 thing we talked about was lefty/righty, lefty/righty because they’re under so much duress that when you’re caught in your back end, a lot of times there’s no play. So I think that part has helped.”
Klingberg is quickly becoming a fan favorite, and he’s been getting a lot of attention from the media. He’s handled it well, not getting caught up in the hype surrounding him.
“I am just trying to play my game,” he said. “If you compare the first game to this game, I feel a lot more comfortable. From the start I tried to come in here and see and learn a little bit. I’m just going to try to stay focused and just enjoy the game and keep going the same way.”
The Stars selected Klingberg out of Sweden in the fifth-round of the 2010 NHL Draft. He then spent four seasons in Europe. He was the playoff MVP in juniors during the 2010-11 season. He and Dallas defenseman Patrik Nemeth won a gold medal with Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
There were some bumps along the way, too. He opted to play in Finland’s top league in 2011-12, but he struggled to adjust living in a new country, got homesick and returned to Sweden midway through the season. He missed the first half of the 2012-13 season due to offseason hip surgery.
Still, Klingberg could have come to North America last season, but he wanted to get one good season under his belt in Sweden before making the jump. It worked out well for him. He registered 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 50 games for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, tying for fifth in scoring among all SHL defensemen and ranking tenth in the league in ice time at 21:47 per game.
“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.”
He joined the Texas Stars of the AHL late last season, but suffered a knee injury that was expected to keep him out a few weeks. Dallas decided to shut him down for the season and have him undergo surgery to clean up some issues with both hips.
That surgery slowed him at Dallas’ training camp and in the preseason, so he started the season with the Texas Stars. The hips started to feel better and he took off in Cedar Park, registering 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in ten games.
“I started to get healthier,” Klingberg said. “I adjusted faster than I thought I would there. At the end of last year had a couple of struggles on defense, but I think I started pretty good.”
Dallas recalled him on November 10, and he’s continued to roll in the NHL, becoming the first rookie defenseman to put together a four-game point streak since Rob Zettler did it in 1989-90. His first NHL goal was a beauty and a big one. With the Stars down 1-0 to Arizona, he scored 19 seconds into the third, slipping around a Coyotes defender to get an open look and scoring off a wrist shot to tie the game. That goal sparked the Stars’ come-from-behind victory to snap a seven-game home winless streak.
“There aren't many players that can pull that off,” said Ruff. “It’s a special goal, it lit the building up. It was something the fans needed and something that we needed.”
In Saturday’s win over Los Angeles, he scored again and made a slick play to set up a Jamie Benn power play goal. With time winding down in the first period, Klingberg skated down from the point and floated a pass into the slot, where Benn scored with 1.3 seconds left in the period.
"It was a pretty nice pass there,” Benn said. “I didn't expect it coming back to me. I was kind of just wandering around there, and he put it on my tape. That's a pass we've seen before. He had another great game. He’s a heck of a hockey player.”
Just another in a long list of rave reviews for Klingberg.
“Ever since his first game I think he surprised a lot of people around here with how good he is,” said defenseman Trevor Daley. “The kid’s a real deal, he’s a hell of a player. … It’s going to be scary to see what that kid can do.”
Jamie Benn named NHL’s third star of the week
The NHL named Stars captain Jamie Benn third star of the week. Benn registered six points (three goals, three assists) in three games as the Stars went 2-1-0 in the first three games of their homestand. Vancouver’s Jannik Hansen was the first star and Detroit’s Tomas Tatar was the second star.
Monday practice notes: Garbutt ready to go; McKenzie back to AHL
*Forward Ryan Garbutt, who has missed the last three games with an upper body injury, practiced Monday and is ready to return to the lineup.
“He is ready to roll,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We’ll make that decision tomorrow (if he plays). We brought him in yesterday and he skated for about an hour. He’s cleared and he is ready to go.”
*With Garbutt ready to return, the Stars assigned LW Curtis McKenzie to the Texas Stars of the AHL. McKenzie has one goal in nine games this season.
*Ruff was asked about the possibility of defenseman Jordie Benn getting back in the lineup. The Dallas coach said he will likely stick with the same players as long as the Stars are winning.
“I am going to create some pressure where if the team is winning and you are out, you’ll be staying out,” Ruff said. “That will give the incentive for those guys that are in there to play well. I feel sometimes if you start rotating they feel that next game I am out anyways. I am going the other direction with that now.”
*Ruff said he would like to get more minutes for defensemen Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak, who are skating as the Stars’ third defensive pair.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen,” Ruff said of the two young defensemen. “My goal is to get them more ice time. I think part of our problem – and it falls on my shoulders – we got a little fatigued back there because we rode some guys too hard. … My goal is to get these guys more involved, where the top guys are playing fewer minutes and those guys are getting 14-15 minutes, somewhere in that area.”
Here’s how the Stars lined up in Monday’s practice:
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Antoine Roussel – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Curtis McKenzie – Shawn Horcoff – Erik Cole
Ryan Garbutt-Colton Sceviour
Trevor Daley – Jason Demers
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jamie Oleksiak
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.