Carl Klingberg figures the keepsakes from his first NHL game are fairly valuable.
But it’s safe to assume he’ll come home with even more prized possessions from the next one if he manages to earn a roster spot with the Winnipeg Jets out of training camp.
The 20-year-old winger headed back to Sweden this summer with the sweater, pants, gloves and helmet he wore in his one and only NHL game for the Atlanta Thrashers. It turned out to be the final game ever played by the Thrashers before the franchise moved north.
“If I want to sell the stuff on eBay—I’m not going to do it—but if I would, it would probably be worth a lot,” Klingberg said recently with a smile.
Even more important than the memorabilia was the message the experience sent: Clearly, the Thrashers believed the second-round draft pick from 2009 had the skills to develop into a NHL regular.
In that respect, the franchise’s move to Winnipeg has left Klingberg with some uncertainty. While he’s excited about the prospect of playing in a hockey-mad Canadian city, he’s a little unsure how the new Jets regime feels about him.
“I knew Atlanta was believing in me a lot, but you can’t think about that now,” said Klingberg. “If I would still play in Atlanta now and Atlanta would be still in the NHL, I would probably think I had a big chance (to make the team). But now I have no idea.
“It’s stupid to focus and think about what kind of chances I have because it’s just taking focus away from what I have to do on the ice.”
From all indications, jobs will be there for the taking.
With a new general manager (Kevin Cheveldayoff), director of hockey operations (Craig Heisinger) and coach (Claude Noel), the players are all being given a clean slate. Evaluations will essentially begin for Klingberg and 21 other prospects when they report to rookie camp at the MTS Centre on Sept. 10.
“For our purposes, we’re going to take a look at a lot of these players for the first time as an organization,” Cheveldayoff said recently. “Because of the lateness of getting the team and everything we didn’t have a development camp, so we haven’t had a real opportunity to take a look at some of the younger guys yet. Training camp’s going to be an important time.
“With all players, we’re going to let them come in and establish their own level. There’s no preconceived notions of who’s going where and what’s going to happen.”
Klingberg can’t ask for much more than that.
A rugged forward at six-foot-three and a little over 200 pounds, he sports a gap-toothed grin and claims to relish in the physical side of the game. He put up modest offensive totals in his country’s domestic league, but showed some offensive upside late in the year with three goals in 11 games after joining Timra.
Once the season was over in Sweden, he came to North America and appeared in eight American Hockey League games before making his NHL debut with the Thrashers.
He’ll definitely be moving to Canada this season—either with the Jets or St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL—and dreams of being part of Winnipeg’s opening night on Oct. 9.
Whether it happens or not, Klingberg is determined to work his way back to the NHL as soon as possible.
“I’m just going to focus on playing my best hockey and I’ll see how long it takes me,” he said.