Of all the players on the Blackhawks’ roster, who would have that that it would be Viktor Stalberg creating the biggest buzz in town recently?
As it would turn out, the hullabaloo surrounding Stalberg is absolutely justified. He’s gone from a guy destined for the scrap heap to a legitimate piece of the Blackhawks this season.
While that might seem like the type of sweeping declaration that you might see from ESPN, Stalberg’s recent run of success shouldn’t come as a surprise to too many people. Or maybe it does.
I’ve been mighty critical of Stalberg since he landed in Chicago last summer, in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg and his rapping ability to Toronto, but at the same time, I recognized the skill that he did have, as raw as he was last year.
The simple explanation might be that we all expected too much from a guy who had very little NHL experience coming in. But he’s found his niche now, as a role player and secondary scorer for the Hawks.
Stalberg has played on all four lines this season, but his play really picked up when he joined Dave Bolland on the third line. He has seven points in his last four games, and two points in each of his last three. With 22 points already, he’ll easily eclipse his career high of 24, which he set last season.
As is the case so often, the explanation of Stalberg’s “turnaround” goes beyond the numbers. Sure, it’s nice that the puck is finding the back of the net and that Stalberg is making his way onto the score sheet on a nightly basis. But he’s also getting smarter.
We already knew Stalberg had unbelievable speed, but up until the past few weeks, he couldn’t really harness it. He’s not taking advantage of that speed and using it as a tool to work the puck into the offensive end, but he’s also doing a much better job of possessing the puck and playing a much better game in the offensive end.
Early on in the season, many had pegged Viktor Stalberg as potentially trade bait. Some might still consider him to be. But there’s no denying his impact if he can keep this up.
Last season, along with a host of other issues, a main problem with the Blackhawks was their lack of secondary scoring. That was something they lost with the departures of guys like Versteeg and Andrew Ladd. It looks like they’ve made up for some of that if Stalberg continues what has the makings of a breakout year.
Stalberg has the tools. He has the size and the speed. If he continues progressing, he’ll be a key element in another potential Stanley Cup run for the Blackhawks. He’s made a believe out of me.