2014 Dallas Stars Training Camp: Defenseman John Klingberg Ready To Compete For NHL Job

The Dallas Stars enter camp with one spot on defense seemingly open -- can John Klingberg earn his place in the NHL after a long road through Europe?

The Dallas Stars enter the 2014 Training Camp with a roster without many holes or questions -- the deep forward group is almost certainly already set in place and just one spot will be open on defense after no major changes came on the blue line in the offseason. There will be healthy competition for that final NHL spot among a number of notable young defensemen, most of whom were part of the Calder Cup championship for the Texas Stars this past season.

One of those players is 22-year old John Klingberg, who enjoyed a brief stint with Texas before injuring his knee and being held out the remainder of the season and playoffs. It's been a long road to this point for Klingberg, who is now making the permanent transition to North America after four years of playing in Europe -- four years of injury-shortened seasons and a disastrous foray into Finnish hockey.

The middle of three brothers, Klingberg was drafted out of the Frolunda junior system in 2010 in the fifth round by the Stars, a player that not many had on their radar at the time. A smooth-skating and skilled defenseman, Klingberg was limited by his small size (5-11, 157 pounds when drafted) yet the Stars saw tremendous upside in the talented young player and took a chance -- and continuing the trend of the Stars finding good value in the fifth round and beyond.

Despite his size, Klingberg impressed in his first development camp after being drafted in 2010 with standout skating and playmaking ability. Incredibly smooth on the ice, Klingberg could deftly move the puck through traffic and up ice and was clearly capable of potentially becoming a special player for the Stars in the future.

Many of those with the team will point to Klingberg's hockey sense, a tough-to-measure skill that speaks to a player's ability to see the ice and expertly read the play as it develops. While not possessing the hardest shot, Klingberg is accurate when putting the puck on net and even deadlier when directing passes to his teammates.

After a solid season with Frolunda in 2010-2011, in which he made the transition from juniors to the SHL, Klingberg decided he needed to expand his hockey experience and play in the more defensive-minded SM-Liiga in Finland.

In a lengthy interview with HockeySverige.se in August, the young defenseman spoke of his decision to move to Finland and how quickly he regretted it.

(We've translated these quotes as best as Google will allow.)

"When I came up in the first team from the juniors here in Frölunda, I felt I was a bit too lazy and home-loving. I wanted to break the pattern. Therefore, I chose to move to Finland (Fall 2011) and test the game in Jokerit," said Klingberg.

He lasted just 20 games with Jokerit, recording only a goal and two assists and struggling mightily with confidence offensively and mistakes in the defensive zone. After then bouncing between different leagues in Finland, he finally headed back to Sweden in the middle of the season, a tough way to end what was supposed to be a positive move for Klingberg's development.

"When I went over I changed my mind," said Klingberg. "I was not at all ready for it and then it became as it were. I do not have anyone else to blame but myself - I was not ready in my head. Everything went horribly hockey wise and I just felt bad and just felt sorry for myself. But when I look back on it now I laugh and it shows somewhere that I've learned a lot along the way. For me it has been good to wait."

Klingberg was unable to return to Frolunda and instead signed mid-season with Skelleftea, scoring a goal and eight assists in 32 games and helping his team win the SHL championship -- before having a big showing for Sweden's Under-20 team that summer with 10 points in 15 games. It was a good rebound from what had been a frustrating year, yet Klingberg would have to undergo hip surgery that summer -- limiting him to just 26 games for Skelleftea in the 2012-2013 season.

Suddenly a player that had once looked to be a shining diamond in the Stars development system was almost completely unknown -- the experiment in Finland was a setback and injury had limited his playing time after the return to Sweden. Seeing an opportunity for more playing time, Klingberg decided to return to Frolunda and play one more full season in Sweden despite having the chance to go ahead and make the jump to the AHL after an electrifying preseason in Dallas.

"I thought I could come over last year, but I didn't have a whole good season in Sweden. I think I got that last year," Klingberg told Mark Stepneski of DallasStars.com. "I had a pretty big role on my team, played a lot of minutes. I am happy about that."

Klingberg credits his time in Skelleftea as helping him grow as a person and as a player, and that growth instantly showed itself after the move back to Frolunda. Taking on a top-pairing role, Klingberg finished fifth among defensemen with 11 goals and 17 assists in 50 games, while averaging 21:47 a game and is now primed to take on a major role with the Texas Stars in the AHL -- or even that final spot on the blue line in Dallas.

Faced with more pain and discomfort over the course of last season the Stars and Klingberg elected to go ahead with another double-hip surgey this summer, from which the defenseman is still recovering. He's started skating with the Stars in Frisco and is close to being fully healthy -- and fully anticipates being ready when camp starts on Sept. 18.

On top of fighting to get healthy, Klingberg will be battling with Patrik Nemeth, Cameron Gaunce, Kevin Connauton, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrkki Jokipakka for that final spot and is ready to also earn his spot in the AHL if that is what it will take.

"The goal I have is of course to take a place in the NHL," said Klingberg to HockeySverige.se. "If it does not happen I do not feel that it is wrong to fight for themselves a place via the AHL. I'm prepared for the road too."

"The players that plays the best will play, whether they are offensive or defensive. They have two good defensemen that are expressed in aggressive (Trevor) Daley and (Alex) Goligoski. Since I feel that Jordie Benn, Jamie Benn's brother, is pretty damn clever. So there is competition. But it is good that they have chosen not to pick up some new defensemen, but targeting their young. It's pretty darn fun. It will be good competition in camp."

Klingberg has the advantage of being the lone right-shot defenseman in camp, but will need to prove to the Dallas coaches his offensive upside is enough to trump what might been seen as a need for more physical balance on the back-end. His brief time in camp last fall was enough to leave a mighty impression on the Stars front office and fans alike, and the team is very high on the potential Klingberg has shown on the ice the past few years.

"He has skill, poise, and a feel for the game offensively. He's got high-end puck presence. He's slippery, elusive. He has all those elements," Stars assistant GM Les Jackson once said. "He has instincts and skill you can't teach."

Four years after being drafted, Klingberg has added size and weight (he is now at 6-1, 183) and has focused on improving his defensive game, while also perfecting his top playmaking skills. Using a tough foray into Finland as a valuable life lesson, Klingberg has grown on and off the ice and is now poised to take his game to the next level.

"I am very much stronger in myself today, calmer and more stable I would say," said Klingberg. "I no longer felt that I needed to decide everything myself even. The Swedish ice hockey has been much pressure that you should dare to fail and it's good that it is so, but you will not be able to play if you drop the puck too many times. Then you are a risk to the rear. This is where I think I have learned to take better decisions."