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John Klingberg is raising his game again in Dallas

The Stars' No. 1 threat from the back end is playing more minutes than ever and is still evolving as a two-way threat. Just how good can the Swedish national get?

John Klingberg has never played more hockey and based on his early offensive numbers, he hasn’t played much better than he is right now, either. The Dallas Stars defenseman is currently punching the clock for 25:14 a night, a full minute more than his previous career high. With 11 points in 11 games and the best possession numbers of any Dallas D-man, he’s making the most of that time, too.

“I keep building on what I learned last year,” Klingberg said. “I want to move my feet, create offense and be a really steady defenseman on the back end. Offensively, opportunities are going to come every day but I can’t chase them too much, I have to take them when they’re there.”

Last year, Klingberg worked a lot with coach Ken Hitchcock and assistant coach Rick Wilson on rounding out his game, with St. Louis Blues stalwart Alex Pietrangelo as a source for inspiration. Both Hitchcock and Wilson are now gone, but Klingberg’s play continues to ascend. New bench boss Jim Montgomery has brought in a system that the slick Swede is quite happy to play in.

“Defensively it’s more aggressive,” Klingberg said. “The ‘D’ are gapping up more, forwards are forechecking better and we’re trying to get the puck back as fast as possible. Offensively and defensively we want to play a fast game.”

Just as important as Klingberg’s continued excellence is the work of partner Esa Lindell, the 24-year-old Finn who is playing nearly 24 minutes a night himself. That’s almost two minutes more than his previous best, but Lindell is still making a positive contribution.

“You’re more into the game,” Lindell said. “That’s why we practise all summer, to play the big minutes. It’s more about the shift lengths. A couple games we’ve had shifts around a minute and that’s too much. We try to keep it short – 40-45 seconds. Little details help a lot.”

The fact Klingberg and Lindell have a track record together also helps, especially since Lindell has only been in the NHL for three seasons.

“We know each other pretty well,” Lindell said. “We talk a lot, we think the same way, it’s really simple. He talks a lot on the ice and that helps my game because I don’t always see what happens. I’m trying to do the same for him. It just feels easy to play with him.”

And Klingberg obviously likes having a partner on the same page.

“For him, he’s more comfortable right now,” Klingberg said. “He’s always been that good player, but the system this year helps him, too. We’ve been talking about keeping the puck more, keeping possession and that has been helping the overall game between the two of us.”

Now the mission is to find more success in the wins column. Dallas missed the playoffs last year, despite having some of the sexiest names in the league on its roster. Along with Klingberg, you’ve also got Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov – a top line with a ton of firepower. But depth scoring has handcuffed the team recently, with fifth-place scorer Mattias Janmark producing half the points of fourth-place Radulov last year. This season, things have been more spread out; the results have just been similar once the final whistle sounds. With time, the Dallas back end will get deeper, too. Rookie Miro Heiskanen is already playing more than 21 minutes per game and looking good in the process – it will be fun to see what his contributions are once the kid has 30 or 40 NHL games under his belt.

It’s scary to think what Dallas’ ‘D’ corps will look like with both Klingberg and Heiskanen at full capacity and given how the Norris Trophy tends to get spread around amongst the top blueliners in the NHL, would it be any shock if Klingberg earned his first this summer? He’s got the skills and the opportunity to do it.


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