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Klingberg looking to take next step in journey to Dallas

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Each year brings another step forward for John Klingberg, and as long as he keeps taking those steps, he hopes he will eventually find his way to Dallas to claim a spot on the Stars’ roster.

Following an eventful 2010-11 season in which Klingberg pulled on four different jerseys, the Swedish defenseman will be heading across the Gulf of Bothnia to ply his trade in Finland next year, when he hopes to take on more responsibility at a higher level of play.

For Klingberg, who turns 19 on Aug. 12, every opportunity to play more is a chance to continue the development process, and his move to play for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League (the same club that has produced such luminaries as Jari Kurri, Teemu Selanne and even current Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen) should provide that in 2011-12.

“I’m going to play for Jokerit in Finland next season,” said Klingberg, a highly-skilled, smooth-skating offensive blueliner. “It was a hard decision for me to make, if I’m going to play in Sweden or Finland, but I chose Finland because I have to think about my own development. And if I want to play here in the NHL someday, I have to develop my size. I’m a very offensive defenseman and I need to practice the defense, so it’s going to be a really good opportunity for me in Finland.”

Klingberg is correct about needing to bulk up physically, as he is listed at 6 feet, 158 pounds. While that is definitely light by NHL standards, the lanky Klingberg plays somewhat of a feisty game and possesses unique attributes that could serve him even better if he can pack on some muscle. That potential is what prompted the Dallas scouting staff to snap him up with a fifth round selection (131st overall) in the 2010 Entry Draft.

“He’s got some really good skill and offensive attributes - skill, poise, a feel for the game offensively,” noted Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development Les Jackson. “He’s got high-end puck presence. He’s slippery, elusive, he manages the offensive blueline well, that’s where Klingberg is king. He has all those elements. For where we picked him, I think the guys did a nice job in the field. He has instincts and skill you can’t teach. It’s just a matter of maturity and time. He’s got a really good chance to move ahead.”

“Our Swedish scouts liked Klingberg,” added Stars’ Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Bernhardt. “He skates really well and he’s a feisty kid. They feel he’s still got a lot of growth - he’s still a slight kid, but they feel he’s got all kinds of growth in him.”

Suiting up for Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League this year, where he will likely receive more ice time than in the Swedish Elite League, should offer him the best chance to maximize that growth potential.

“I hope that I play more (than last year in Sweden),” Klingberg said. “They let me play my offensive style in Finland. In Sweden, they also do that, but it’s more like, if you make mistakes, you’re not going to play again.”

That was one of the lessons Klingberg learned during the roundabout journey that he experienced last season, beginning the year with Vastra Frolunda’s junior squad. He piled up three goals and 17 points in 13 games before earning a promotion to Frolunda’s Elite League club, where he registered five assists in 26 games while averaging 12:34 of ice time per contest. Then he was loaned to the second-division club Boras for seven games, scoring one goal, before being recalled to Frolunda.

He then returned to the Frolunda juniors and recorded one goal and 10 assists in seven playoff games, earning MVP honors as his club won the league championship.

“I played back in Sweden with a lot of teams,” Klingberg said. “I was playing in the Swedish Elite League, and also with juniors, and I got loaned to Boras. So it was three different teams and I got to play a lot of games, so it was fun. I got the chance to play with the Elite League team, and of course, you want to play with them. Then they wanted to develop me and they loaned me to Boras. I was there only seven games and then I went back to Frolunda and played there, finished the season there.”

The fourth jersey he wore last year was that of the Swedish national team, as Klingberg recorded a goal and an assist, along with a +2 plus/minus rating, in six games at the 2011 World Junior Championships that were held in Buffalo. Sweden advanced to the bronze medal game, but wound up losing to Team USA to finish fourth.

“It was amazing, I’ve never been at something like that before, it was really big,” Klingberg said of the frenetic atmosphere surrounding the World Juniors, something he’ll likely experience again in 2012. “It was really good (to play under those conditions).”

Overall, the Stars were pleased with the progress Klingberg made last year, particularly with him bouncing between several different levels of competition.

“Klingberg really had a good season,” Jackson said. “He had some really great learning lessons. He played in the Frolunda juniors and with the big team. He played in the World Juniors and I think he played in one or two games with the Swedish National Team before they went to the World Championship.”

“He’s a two-way defenseman and he has some bite to his game,” said Dallas European scout Rickard Oquist. “He’s a good skater, mobile and moves the puck with ease. A big guy that needs some time to fill out.”

The player himself acknowledged that he believed that he had improved over the course of the season, especially regarding his adjustment to the faster-paced game at the Elite League level.

“I grew as a player, because you don’t have the time to do the things you can do in juniors,” Klingberg said. “There’s less time in the Elite League and you have to make the decisions much faster. And even in the NHL, you have to make the decisions even faster still, so it was good to learn.”

Participating in the Stars’ annual development camp in early July at the McKinney Dr Pepper StarCenter, Klingberg felt like his learning process bumped forward even more, especially since he knew what to expect in his second time at the camp.

“This week is really good for the guys to all come here,” Klingberg said, “because you learn so much and you can ask all of the coaches and trainers because they know what it will take for you to play in the NHL someday, so it’s a really good camp. I feel more comfortable the second time. My English is a little bit better, but I need to practice it.”

There’s no question that Stars management has high hopes for Klingberg’s future with the franchise, making sure they signed him to a three-year entry-level contract on May 16, which won’t take effect until he crosses the Atlantic to play in North America.

“We are excited to reach an agreement with John,” Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said when the signing was announced. “He is a skilled player and we are encouraged by his development over the past year in Sweden and at the World Junior Championships. We are expecting great things from him as he continues progressing toward the NHL.”

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