photo credit: Zimbio
By Brad Gardner
The most immediate return from the Blackhawks’ summer purge in 2010, Viktor Stalberg skated in 77 games with Chicago during the ensuing season. With the exception of the nine-game debut of Jeremy Morin, Stalberg was the only player acquired last summer to suit up with the ‘Hawks during the 2010-11 season. Much of the remaining returns came in the form of prospects and draft picks, so it will take years to determine just how effective Stan Bowman’s maneuvering turns out to be for the Blackhawks organization.
For the quick triggers, though, Viktor Stalberg was most certainly not Kris Versteeg last season. Coming from Toronto along with prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis, the big Swede was coming off a solid NHL debut of nine goals in 40 NHL games with the Maple Leafs in just his first pro season out of the University of Vermont. While thoughts of a blazing fast 20-goal scorer danced through the minds of fans, Stalberg instead struggled to carve out a role on the Blackhawks’ roster and was relegated to the fourth line for much of the season.
He managed 12 goals and 12 assists on the year, while averaging 10:41 of ice time per game. Stalberg finished fifth on the Blackhawks with 102 hits despite going through stretches of disinterest in the physical department. Appearing in all seven playoff games against the Canucks, he came out of that series with just one goal, a fight, and an even plus/minus rating.
Stalberg’s inconsistency over the course of the season resulted in several dry spells on the score sheet, including seven separate scoring droughts of at least four games. Three of those scoreless streaks stretched to at least seven games in length. The middle of the year was his worst stretch of the season as the Swede was held off the scoresheet in 25 of the 29 games he played from December 3rd through February 20th, scoring just two goals and two assists in that time.
December was also the month Stalberg had his bell rung on a big hit into the boards from Colorado’s Ryan O’Byrne. Though he only missed three games due to the injury, Stalberg’s ice time was erratic throughout his rough stretch.
He earned opportunities to skate with the top lines, but those trials were short-lived for the most part. At 6’3 and 210 pounds, Stalberg does not use his size as often as he could and was not a perfect fit for the bottom lines, either. Without a defined role or regular linemates, he was unable to make a consistent impact in any facet of the game.
That said, Stalberg’s high points were quite impressive. His skating ability is his most noticeable asset, as he could use it to beat defenders on the rush and provide pressure on the forecheck. The winger displayed a quick release and a hard shot, potting a handful of big goals throughout the season. He was at his best, though, when using his big frame to play a power forward type of game.
Perhaps the best example of Stalberg’s fiery physical play was just prior to his fight with Kevin Bieksa during the playoffs. Stalberg doled out three hits to three separate Canucks on the forecheck, even putting the defenseman Bieksa on his wallet. The fight was fairly one-sided in favor of the Canuck, but Stalberg certainly made his presence known and took one of Vancouver’s best defensemen off the ice for five minutes.
Those stretches of aggressive play were few and far between last season though. So, the team will look for a more consistent compete-level this year. If Stalberg can step into a role similar to what Tomas Kopecky has played in recent years – supplying an energetic physical presence, battling in front of the net, and maintaining dependable play in his own zone – he could develop into an important depth player for the ‘Hawks.
The main problem with that scenario is that, unlike Kopecky, Stalberg has already been given an opportunity at the NHL level without fully developing those other aspects of his game. Kopecky came up in the Detroit system and was forced to change his game in the minor leagues just to earn what little opportunity he received with the Wings. Stalberg may be less willing to develop his skills as a grinder after already having made it to the NHL.
Stalberg’s 2-year deal with Chicago signals that the brass sees something in the Swedish winger. With a manageable cap hit at $875,000, the team is taking on little risk with the deal. Considering his tools and experience at the pro level, Stalberg could be a valuable commodity on the trade market if he is unable to earn a stable role above the fourth line. Until then, he represents valuable depth in the bottom six as yet another player with size, skating ability, and some scoring touch for Joel Quenneville to deploy throughout the line-up.