After a brilliant preseason by the Swedish winger landed him a spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Viktor Stalberg had Leaf Nation in a buzz with anticipation on what his rookie season could be in the NHL.
It didn't exactly turn out the way he or the Leaf faithful had in mind.
He suffered a head injury just three games into the season, and was eventually sent down to the Marlies after tallying just one assist in eight games in October. He didn't play another game with the Leafs until Dec. 18.
His first goal came on Dec. 21 against Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, but his happiness was short lived as he missed the next four games with another injury before again getting sent down to the Marlies.
The pattern continued throughout the entire season as he shared time with both the Leafs and Marlies, getting assigned to the AHL four times while struggling with injury issues at the same time.
His season was essentially the same emotional rollercoaster that Jack Bauer goes through during an episode of 24 - minus the steadily climbing death toll.
It’s not that his play wasn’t noticeable, because he showcased his incredible speed and ability to burst in off the wing towards the net on many occasions, but it’s the consistency and finish that wasn’t there enough.
He scored nine goals and 14 points in 40 games with the big club, while adding 12 goals and 33 points in 39 games with the Marlies.
His role with the Leafs increased once the team traded away much of the offense mid-season, and though he wasn't as consistent as they hoped, his play did steadily improve in the final weeks of the campaign - including a pair of two-goal games in March.
He also added a goal and an assist in the team's final game, an overtime victory against the Montreal Canadiens.
It certainly wasn't the rookie season anyone was planning on for Stalberg, but the 24-year-old undoubtedly gained enough experience through his rigors to mold him into a legitimate offensive threat for years to come.
A spot on the team next season is his for the taking, and if he can use this off-season to his advantage while understanding what it takes to be a certified NHLer, he has the chance to book a spot in the top six forwards on the Leafs.
Burke knows what he has in the speedy Stalberg as his potential is sky high; it's now up to the winger to prove he belongs in the league with a stellar sophomore season in 2010-2011.
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