John Klingberg has been impressive since he debuted with the Dallas Stars this season as a rookie defenseman.
He came onto the Stars blueline at a time where they weren't playing their best hockey. The team had just lost Patrik Nemeth to injury for the majority of the season, and they were looking for a stabilizing presence as a team in general.
Klingberg's play was just that -- and it stood out immediately because of the poise he showed with the puck. He made smart plays under pressure -- something that hadn't been present on the blueline with much consistency early in the season. While he has had his rough games, that kind of hockey sense he displayed in his debut has shone through the entirety of his stint here in the NHL. It's hard to even imagine this blueline without Klingberg as a main fixture now.
Since getting here, Klingberg's play has seen him moved up the pairings where he's now anchoring a top four spot consistently. He's also earning time on the power play as a defensemen that has shown a penchant for being able to control the man advantage from the point.
His moving up to the top power play and playing that spot on the point has opened up Jamie Benn to be the net front presence and Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin to be free to roam around the ice to make the plays they're known for. It may not be pure coincidence that he gets up on that unit and all of a sudden it actually converts at a good clip here recently.
Stars fans know what Klingberg does for this Dallas Stars team. He's been dynamite, going so far as to reach accolades such as "highest scoring rookie defensemen of franchise history" and "NHL Rookie of the Month - January".
We haven't heard his name much in the conversation for best rookie in the league this season, however. How does he stack up against the rookie leaders, and why isn't he in consideration for the top rookie award?
Let's look at some fancy stats first.
Time for a fancy stats chart
|TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi QoC||Corsi Relative||Corsi On||Off Zone Start %||Off Zone Finish %|
In the above chart, I looked at the top eight rookies in terms of scoring, and listed their stats in no particular order. I did put Ekblad and Klingberg together, since they are the only two of the top eight that are defensemen (the rest are all forwards).
Two things pop out here. Firstly, Klingberg is playing the toughest competition of any of the top scoring rookies right now based on his quality of competition stats. Secondly, he's the only rookie that is able to push the play to the point where he actually finishes his shifts in the offensive zone more often.
As well, Klingberg is playing the least sheltered of minutes, with a below 50% offensive zone start, whereas a lot of these top scoring rookies are playing highly sheltered minutes with upwards of 60%+ offensive zone starts. Klingberg is being trusted to play at both ends of the ice, not a common usage among rookie defensemen in general.
Now let's look at scoring stats.
|Games Played||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||Pts/G||Projected Points (Based on 82GP)|
Klingberg has played in the fewest games of the top scoring rookies, and has done just as much in those than others that have played more than he has. If you were to project out the points these leaders would score in a full 82 game season at their current points per game pace, Klingberg would actually end up being the leading rookie defensemen in scoring. (Even so, he's not so far behind Ekblad at the moment that he couldn't still do just that.)
The underlying stats of least sheltered minutes combined with the points he's putting up against tougher competition make a very good case for Klingberg to be in the Calder conversation.
There are a few things working against him when it comes to the Calder, however.
He's a 22 year old rookie going up against several under-20 year olds. While not the elder statesmen of the group -- that honor goes to 25 year old Mike Hoffman -- he's got a little bit more professional experience than someone like 18 year old Ekblad does. A lot of the voters take something like this into consideration when picking the Calder winner (even if not consciously).
He also doesn't come with the hype that some of these guys did when they were drafted. He's far from a 2nd overall pick, or even the first round pick a lot of these players were. Instead, he was drafted in the 5th round and played in Europe instead of Canadian major junior hockey, which brings a level of anonymity that he would have to overcome in order for people to start taking notice of what he's doing in big D -- and not playing in an Original 6 or Canadian market doesn't exactly help him rise above that either.
Whether his name goes into the conversation for the Calder like it belongs or not, Klingberg is in the midst of a phenomenal rookie campaign that Stars fans haven't seen at that position in quite a while. He may not get the recognition from the hockey media in general that he is deserving of for his campaign, but Stars fans definitely recognize the future they're watching unfold right in front of their eyes.
And it is very, very promising indeed.