By Namish Modi
P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson and Ryan Suter all have something in common. Several things, actually. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, they are all Norris Trophy finalists or winners and very rich star defensemen in the NHL.
But none of them had the start to their career John Klingberg has had. After being recalled from the Texas Stars Nov.10, the Dallas rookie blueliner has been nothing short of brilliant with nine points in his first 14 games including eight in his first eight.
“(In my) first game, (I had to) see and learn a little bit," Klingberg said of his NHL indoctrination. "I had a pretty good start down there in the minors and just wanted to keep going the same way, and that’s what they told me: ‘Play your game the same way you did down there, and see how it goes.’ ”
Even though it has provided only a small sample size, Klingberg’s play has not been a fluke. At the time he was called up, he was second among American League defensemen scoring and second among rookies in points with 12, including four goals, in 10 games.
It probably has something to do with the fact Klingberg is so accustomed to playing with elite competition and veteran players. He amassed 50 points in 117 games for two teams in the Swedish League and was also a part of the 2012 World Junior Championship, where he won a gold medal with Sweden.
Of all active defensemen, the 22-year-old has had the best eight games to start his career. The next best came from New Jersey Devils veteran Marek Zidlicky, who posted seven in his first eight games when he started his career with Nashville. Klingberg is also the first blueliner in Stars’ franchise history (dating back to their days as the Minnesota North Stars in 1967-68) to start his career with nine points in 11 games.
“I am a player that can put up some points," Klingberg said. "I got some confidence with all the ice time I got. Played some power play too, and of course it helps the confidence to score some points.”
Klingberg made his NHL debut Nov.11 against the Arizona Coyotes but didn’t actually get his first point until Dallas visited Chicago five days later, when he earned an assist. Klingberg had points in four consecutive games following that one, including three multi-point games.
His nine points have him tied for eighth in rookie scoring and third in defensemen scoring amongst first-year players. Only New Jersey’s Damon Severson and Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers have more, and both started the season with their respective clubs.
Klingberg, a 2010 fifth-rounder, also leads the defensively challenged Stars with a plus-6 rating, which is tied for sixth among rookies in the league and tied for first among rookie defensemen. He is also logging some important minutes, averaging 21:35 per game, third on the Stars.
What’s even more impressive for Klingberg is that amongst defenders who have played a minimum of 100 even strength minutes this season, his goals-for per 60 rating is 3.14. This metric means the Stars are scoring 3.14 goals per 60 minutes on average at even strength while Klingberg is on the ice.
Defense is difficult to master at the pro level, but Klingberg is making it look easy despite the fact he hasn’t always played the blueline. He moved back from forward to defense during his teen years.
“It was more my coach back in Sweden when I was 15,” Klingberg said. “He said, ‘You should trying playing 'D.'' I have some pretty good vision on the ice, so I (tried) that and kind of just stayed there.”
His emergence hasn’t come out of thin air, as some have compared the young Swede to Karlsson, another offense-minded blueliner.
“I look at a lot of players like Doughty and Karlsson, even Oliver Ekman-Larsson, those are pretty good D-men,” Klingberg said. “I watch a lot of them, don’t try to copy them, I just kind of try to play my own game. It's pretty similar of course, obviously it is, (I) just want to get my own profile in the game.”
If he continues to play the way he has through the first part of his career, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.