International Ice Hockey Federation

Klingberg the king

Klingberg the king

2012 Swedish WJC winner stars in Dallas

Published 24.12.2015 02:20 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Klingberg the king
John Klingberg, who's emerging as an elite NHLer with the Dallas Stars, also suited up for Sweden at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
If you want to believe in the power of transformation, look no further than Dallas Stars defenceman John Klingberg.

He switched from forward to defence at the relatively late age of 15, and that’s proved to be a savvy career move. Once criticized in Sweden by his coaches for a diet heavy on chocolate milk and hot dogs, the 23-year-old has improved his conditioning and focus. He’s feasting this season on opposition goalies as he bids for the NHL scoring lead among blueliners.

Klingberg was smart enough to wait until 2014/15 before committing to the leap to North America. It paid off. He signed a seven-year, $29.75-million U.S. contract extension in April. It’s big money, but he’s already one of the NHL’s best bargains.

Voted to the 2015 NHL All-Rookie Team, he established new records for Dallas rookie defencemen in goals (11), assists (29) and points (40) last season. He’s on pace to eclipse those numbers this year.

“I think I’ve just gained some experience,” he told “I’m playing the same way as last year, trying to play simple with the puck and be patient. When I get chances to join the rush or play on the power play, obviously you get chances to score points with those guys on our power play.”

His PP production has been buoyed by collaborating with Canadian stars who’ve shone in recent IIHF competitions. Jamie Benn, the reigning NHL scoring champion with 87 points last season, won Olympic gold in Sochi. Benn’s linemate, Tyler Seguin, led the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with nine goals en route to gold in Prague. Throw in Jason Spezza, named Best Forward as the tournament scoring leader (15 points), and it’s clear why Dallas is feared with the man advantage.

What’s the right-shooting Klingberg’s personal key to success on the power play?

“Shoot as many pucks as I can. We’ve got a good shooter in Seguin on the left side and Spezza is a pretty good shooter on the right side. If the other team takes those guys away, it’s going to be an open lane for me. I just need to move around on the blue line, control the puck a bit, and find those openings.”

The 186-cm, 82-kg rearguard has been adept at that. Paired with veteran Alex Goligoski, he earned a career-high seven-game point streak in October. His offensive instincts have earned comparisons to two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. His on-ice stance is similar to Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. As long as he continues making safe plays in his own end, he has every opportunity to cement his name among the NHL’s elite.

He’s come a long way since Dallas scout Rickard Oquist spotted him and the Stars made him their fifth-round pick (131st overall) in 2010. From that round, only Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher has played more NHL games.

In 2011, when Klingberg left his long-time Swedish club, Frolunda Gothenburg, he was considered a high-risk defenceman with poor judgement. His struggles continued when he leaped to Jokerit Helsinki in Finland in 2011/12. Yet his return to Sweden later that season with Skelleftea AIK was a great fit, as he adapted well to their puck-possession style despite battling hip injuries. In 2012/13, Skelleftea won the Swedish championship.

“I was able to come to Skelleftea with a team that was playing almost the same way we do here,” Klingberg said. “They had a lot of offensive skill and played a pretty solid D game too. So it was probably the best choice I made to go to Skelleftea and not move straight back to my old team. I learned a lot up there. I had good coaches and good teammates. Skelleftea meant a lot to me.”

His experience under coach Roger Ronnberg in his second World Juniors (2012) was also meaningful. The Swedes captured their first gold in 31 years with a dramatic 1-0 overtime win over Russia at the Saddledome in Calgary. They outshot their opponents 58-17, and the score would have been higher if not for the heroics of Russian goalie Andrei Makarov.

“I remember the game very well,” Klingberg said. “I think we played the right way the whole game. We got a lot of shots and we were just waiting to get the goal. They actually had a pretty good opportunity to score with 30 seconds left, with [Yevgeni] Kuznetsov. And obviously I remember Mika [Zibanejad] scoring the OT winner.”

It was the addition of Ronnberg, noted for his communication skills, as head coach with Frolunda in 2013/14 that prompted Klingberg to play one more SHL season with his old club. Klingberg posted career-best numbers (11-17-28) and wore an A in his Swedish swan song.

“I always liked Roger and he’s helped me a lot with my career,” said Klingberg, whose Tre Kronor service continued at the 2015 Worlds. He had two goals and four assists to go with a +9 plus-minus rating as Sweden came fifth.

In Dallas, Klingberg relaxes away from the rink by catching up with his brother Carl, who played 12 games for the Winnipeg Jets between 2011/12 and 2014/15 before jumping to the KHL’s Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod this season. He also enjoys playing the FIFA 16 football video game with housemate Mattias Janmark. He listens to hip-hop and house music, along with Top 40 hits, as a break from the country tunes that often blast in the Stars dressing room.

Life in the Texas metropolis is treating him well.

“It’s really nice when you come over for training camp. It’s hot. You can get a good tan,” Klingberg said with a laugh. “No, I’m just kidding. It’s great to be in Dallas. The team has been taking care of me a lot, and the people are really nice too.”

What would be nicest of all is another run to the final. The Stars’ lone Cup came in 1999. Dallas has earned a playoff berth just once in the last seven seasons (a first-round loss to Anaheim in 2013/14). But they’re clearly the Western Conference’s top team so far this season.

“It feels really good,” said Klingberg. “We learned a lot from last year. We had a really tough start to the season, and then we came back with a strong second half. This year, we’ve focused from the start on being a team that plays well defensively.”

It’ll be intriguing to see just how far the transformation of John Klingberg and the Dallas Stars will take them this season.


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