Originally drafted in 2006 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Viktor Stalberg has seen both sides of the coin in his short career in the NHL. After spending his last three years with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, Stalberg now finds himself as a prized free agent signee for a Nashville Predators team that is sorely looking for an injection of speed and talent.
As the final minute ticked off the clock inside Boston’s TD Garden on June 24th, Stalberg’s career was about to reach the pinnacle of sports achievements: Lord Stanley’s Cup. With the Blackhawks scoring two goals in a span of 16 seconds, Chicago had just finished an improbably comeback in Game Six of the Cup Finals to win the Stanley Cup and return as champions only three seasons removed from their last championship. Even in that moment, though, Stalberg may have realized that his time had come to an end in Chicago. Scoring 90 points in his 203 games with the Blackhawks, Stalberg had slowly fallen down the depth chart with the Blackhawks. He was the only forward in that Cup-clinching Game Six to not register more than 10 minutes of time on the ice (8:16 TOI, lowest on the time other than Nick Leddy).
“I don’t think they gave me the opportunity to be comfortable [in Chicago], especially the last two years. Looking back two seasons ago, I scored 22 goals and still wasn’t playing top six minutes or any powerplay [time]. I don’t think that’s really giving an opportunity,” said Stalberg. “Certainly you can’t be mad at that either. Look at that lineup, that’s just the way it is. Past couple of years, that’s the best team in hockey if you look at the roster. If you want to be on a good team with winning and all that, it might not be the opportunity to reach my potential.”
Signing a four-year, $12 million dollar deal with the Predators at the start of free agency, Stalberg went from being a bottom forward on Chicago to an easily justifiable top forward with Nashville. While he wasn’t used more often in a stacked Chicago lineup, the speedy Swedish winger should immediately be able to contribue for the Predators, a team starved for offensively talented wingers.
“[The Predators] play an up-tempo game. It fits well with my game with speed. They really come at you and make it hard for you to break out of your zone. That’s something I’m looking to really use, to use my speed and create turnovers,” said Stalberg on a conference call after being signed.
Most likely slotting into a one of the top four winger spots in Nashville’s lineup, Stalberg’s 14:07 average time on the ice per game last season should drastically increase. The Predators will be relying on the former sixth round draft selection to be more than what he was with Chicago and live up to the potential that the Blackhawks saw in him after they traded for him in the summer of 2010.
Will Stalberg become a household name here in Nashville? Only time will tell. Yet, for a player that is contributing at nearly half a point per game already, increasing his playing time and lining him up with some of Nashville’s explosive young talent could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Quite possibly the greatest video to showcase Stalberg’s talent. From the opposite side of the ice at the face-off dot, blowing past three Stars defenders to score a goal, all in a span of eight seconds:
Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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