If life imitated the movies, Viktor Stalberg might develop into a marquee player for the Chicago Blackhawks.
When Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman shipped Kris Versteeg to Toronto as part of Cap Slash 2010, the silver lining offered up was a talented young skater who oozed potential at a much cheaper price.
With a lull in the playoffs Thursday, Versus aired the Rob Lowe hockey "classic" Youngblood. I have to admit that I watched a large part of both showings. Maybe you did too. Come on, admit it. Ex-Hawk Eric Nesterenko plays his dad, for goodness sake.
With memories of Carl Racki, Derek Sutton and Miss McGIll swimming in my head, I started to do a little research on that silver lining. When I got on the team website and got to the Viktor Stalberg page, all I could think of to myself was "Dang, dude looks just like Dean Youngblood."
That's not where the similarities end...
Dean Youngblood: Lightning fast forward, big time potential, got knocked around like a Raggedy Andy doll by Racki, has to learn to toughen up and become a hockey player.
Viktor Stalberg: Lightning fast forward, big time potential, got knocked around by, well, everyone, has to learn to toughen up and become a hockey player.
In the movie, Youngblood hits the heavy bag for a few nights, tussles with his dad for a bit, and takes Racki down in a fight that today would have ended the minute the sticks were used, not to mention the jersey getting pulled over Racki's head.
In real life, Stalberg attempted to add a physical element, with mixed results (see Bieksa, Kevin).
Chicago got the opportunity to kick the tires on Young...er...Stalberg this season. Should the 'Hawks take him for another spin next season?
Stalberg certainly has the size to be a physical forward at 6'3", 210 pounds (as opposed to the 5'10, 165-pound Dean Youngblood who makes Patrick Kane look like Bob Probert). As the 2010-11 progressed, he showed more of a willingness to play a rougher style.
Stalberg's calling card, however, is his skating. This guy can fly down the ice. Finishing at the net after blowing by the opposition was the concern that kept him from being a top-six option for the Blackhawks.
Stalberg had 12 goals and 12 assists in his first full year of NHL action. Those numbers were more or less consistent with the 40 games he had with Toronto. The fact that his ice time dropped with Chicago makes the allure of what Stalberg could become as a scorer just as tempting as the day he hit town.
Still, Stalberg had opportunities with the top two lines and couldn't stick, leaving him to ply his trade as an ill-suited fourth-liner. He went two months without a goal in the middle of the season, during which he managed to hit post-crossbar-post (a "hat-trick of iron" as called by Pat Foley) on a penalty shot against Dallas January 5th.
What is Viktor Stalberg's role for the 'Hawks next season?
Two months later, Stalberg found the net in the shootout with Columbus to win a big late-season game, but the big Swede had trouble all season drawing net with the puck.
Stalberg is a restricted free agent this summer. Does Bowman take Stalberg for one more test drive around the block?
It's hard to give up on a guy who has the speed and potential Stalberg displays. After all, he was the centerpiece of the Versteeg deal (even though the move had to be made). The catch is that unless he can break into the top six, he really isn't a good fit for the 'Hawks.
Stalberg is a definite matchup problem when he goes up against the opposition's lower lines. More grit and more goals are needed to make that work for Chicago, but potential is always hard to dismiss.
Bowman will have to decide if Stalberg can break into the top two lines in the immediate future and plot a course of action from there.
Leaving Stalberg to go out to the barn and work the heavy bag with the Youngbloods.