On Friday night, prospect Brandon Saad stole all of the attention and headlines at the United Center. But Viktor Stalberg looked exceptional in the game as well, scoring the Blackhawks other two goals.
Nobody has every questioned Stalberg’s talent, but could this be the year that he breaks into the Hawks’ top-six… and stays there?
Whenever Stalberg plays, the word that comes to mind is speed. There aren’t many forwards in the league that can get up and down the ice like Stalberg, and he possesses elite acceleration ability.
However, the trick was finding consistency from him.
He bounced between the top line and the bottom of the depth chart last year, and it showed in his production. The 25-year-old former sixth round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs established career highs in goals and assists with 12 of each last year, but there were entire weeks that he was a non-factor.
Looking at his performances last year, it’s hard to say that more ice time makes Stalberg more productive.
He had two multi-point games, a three-point game on Nov. 3 against New Jersey and a two-assist night against St. Louis on Nov. 30. In those two games, he played 17:52 and 15:58, respectively.
But in the 12 games in which Stalberg scored a goal, he played more than 10 minutes in only six of them. In fact, Stalberg scored a goal four times in a game in which he played less than nine minutes.
On Friday night, the 6’3″, 209-pound forward skated on a line with captain Jonathan Toews and Saad. He looked good in space, finishing a pretty one-timer on a pass from Saad. He has also looked physical so far during this preseason, and the organization undoubtedly hopes he can improve his 102 hits from the 2010-11 season in the coming year.
The organization took a chance with Stalberg this summer, handing the restricted free agent a new two-year deal. With most of the additions to the roster being bottom-six players on one-year deals, the importance of the second year of Stalberg’s deal cannot be overstated.
When Patrick Kane returns to the lineup, it will be interesting to see if coach Joel Quenneville leaves Stalberg on the top line with Toews. Few lines would be able to match the speed that a Stalberg-Toews-Kane line would put on the ice, but Stalberg must remain consistent.
Last year, the Blackhawks consistently skated Tomas Kopecky heavy minutes, especially when he was opposite Marian Hossa, and they were rewarded with a 42-point outburst.
If Quenneville can employ the same stubborn confidence in Stalberg this year, and allows him to remain in the top-six, there is reason to believe that he could duplicate Kopecky’s performance from a year ago.