The Blackhawks suffered a disgusting loss on Wednesday night, but not everything coming from the contest was negative.
Playing a short group of forwards, coach Joel Quenneville showed increased confidence in Viktor Stalberg and the young forward did not disappoint. In his largest ice time of the year (17:52), Stalberg scored his fourth goal of the season, added two assists and was credited with four hits in the loss.
Stalberg has now scored as many goals as Patrick Kane this season, and his speed up and down the ice is continuing to impress. By adding the physical element that had been lacking in earlier games, Stalberg is emerging as a legitimate top-six forward for the Blackhawks.
Wednesday night was just the second time this year that Stalberg played more than 14 minutes, but that should change moving forward. With Marian Hossa out of the lineup, Tomas Kopecky has struggled to finish around the net in a number of critical situations and could lose his spot on the wing to the younger, faster Stalberg.
Playing next to Patrick Sharp and Hossa would give the Hawks a dynamic second line that few teams could handle. It would also open up the ice for a top line of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Troy Brouwer.
Stalberg has done a good job of being more than just fast up and down the ice, though. His goal on Wednesday night was on a rebound in front of the net, and both of his assists were through traffic. He’s been effective playing close to the net and has shown good hands; on the rare occasions that he’s been able to skate with the top forwards on the roster, his performances have been excellent.
The Blackhawks acquired Stalberg from Toronto as part of the deal that sent Kris Versteeg to the Leafs, and has started to back up the hype he brought with him. His season stats are well ahead of Versteeg, who was supposed to play a prominent role for the Leafs this year and has disappointed to date.