With Swedish defenseman John Klingberg, we’ll say the Stars got a little bit of both.
When the Stars scouting staff met Klingberg before he was drafted in 2010 with Dallas’ fifth-round pick (131st overall), they estimated his height be just short of 5-foot-11 – not exactly optimal for an NHL defenseman. But within almost no time, he seemed to hit a growth spurt – and though the Stars media guide lists him at 6-feet, the scouting staff estimates he’s passed that marker already.
“I first met him, he was maybe 182 centimeters (5-foot-11),” said Stars amateur scout Rickard Oquist, who is based in Sweden. “When he came to development camp, maybe a month after that, he was like 186 centimeters (6-foot-1). He literally grew two inches in a month.”
“I think he grew two inches during the draft,” joked Kari Takko, the Stars’ director of European scouting. “There’s not too many scouts who can figure out how to make that happen.”
So was it luck? Or did the Stars know something nobody else did?
“Well, we hoped he would grow,” Oquist said. “His brother is 6-foot-3, so we thought he might.”
Turns out it was a complex study of genetics – or one look at Klingberg’s brother Carl, who plays in the American Hockey League.
Whatever the reason, the Stars got a break on a late-round pick, one that could turn an already-skilled player into a stronger candidate to make the NHL one day soon. General managers and head coaches are constantly looking for size on the back end, and Klingberg’s growth is one step toward possibly making that step.
Of course, he’s still in need of some added girth as well, as he’s currently listed at 172 pounds. But at age 19, with the right training, diet and weight program, there’s no reason to think someone like Klingberg could look like a much bigger, stronger player if and when he first steps on to NHL ice.
The “when” on that is still up in the air, but one thing the Stars scouting department does know is that Klingberg already has two of the necessary elements to be a successful player.
They knew it the first time they saw him.
“He was small and skinny. But he was feisty and he had puck skill. That was obvious,” Takko said. “He’s so good with the puck that he scares coaches. That probably doesn’t make sense, but he makes really high-risk plays once in a while. When they don’t turn out the way you hoped, that’s tough for the coach.”
But scouts have to like the fact that Klingberg has the confidence to make those plays, right?
“His confidence and his ability, those are both top-end,” Takko said. “It can be a good thing, because you don’t have to push him to make plays. He needs to mature and he needs to continue to be coached, but it’s not like having to push someone to try and make plays.”
That confidence hasn’t hindered Klingberg from pressing forward in his development at any point yet. In fact, Oquist said he also has that uncanny ability to move past his mistakes quickly rather than dwelling on them and taking himself out of the game.
“He’s the type of player who will try a move, but miss and fail, and he’ll go out right after that and try to make the same move,” he said.
During the 2011-12 season, Klingberg played at several levels across the border in Finland, including 20 games for Jokerit in SM-liiga – the Finnish Elite League, ranked by the International Ice Hockey Federation as the second strongest league in Europe. In those 20 games, he registered a goal and two assists for three points to go with eight penalty minutes.
He also played six games at the World Junior Championships for his native Sweden, dishing out three assists and collecting four penalty minutes for the eventual gold-medal champions.
“Even though he didn’t get a lot of major ice time,” Takko said, “it was really good for him to be a part of that team (Sweden’s World Junior champions).”
The next step now, according to both Takko and Oquist, is for Klingberg to learn how to live the professional hockey life and adjust accordingly – much in the way countryman Patrik Nemeth did while spending part of last season in Dallas with former Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossmann.
“That means eating right, training right, getting the right amount of sleep, all those things,” Takko said. “That’s the pro life. Those are things he needs to learn.”
Oquist believes just by being here for training camp, Klingberg can.
“ I think if he sees, like Patrik did when he came over here and hung around with Grossmann, if he sees what it takes to be a pro, that will give him that push.”
Klingberg, like Nemeth, is part of a group of Stars European prospects that seem to be getting deeper, stronger and more plentiful in terms of potential NHL talent.
Takko, who heads up the scouting for that group, has certainly noticed the cupboard getting more stocked of late.
“We’re in really good shape now,” Takko said. “I’m pretty happy about our situation now. A few years back we went through some tough parts where we had some players that nothing really happened. But all these players we’ve drafted from Europe lately, they all seem to be progressing nicely.”
Two specific prospects that Oquist pointed out were members of the Stars’ 2011 draft class, center Emil Molin and defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka.
Molin was the Stars’ fourth-round pick (105th overall) who split his 2011-12 campaign between junior hockey and the Swedish Elite League. With Brynäs at the junior level, he scored 15 goals and totaled 42 points in just 29 games. Once moving to Brynäs of the Elite League, he registered five points in 34 games and added an assist in 10 playoff games as his team won the championship.
“He’s become quicker already,” Oquist said. “He put up a lot of points in junior, and then playing with the big team that won the championship was a very good experience for him.”
Jokipakka, from Finland, was Dallas’ seventh-round pick (195th overall) and played 52 games with Ilves in the top Finnish league (SM-liiga), scoring nine goals and adding eight assists for 17 points to go with 18 penalty minutes.
“The games I’ve seen, he’s made really positive improvements,” Oquist said. “If he was not the best defenseman on his team he was certainly one of the best. He has great puck presence, he’s good on the power play and he really moves well for a 6-foot-3 guy.
“It was really fun to see his improvements this season.”