In his three years with the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Viktor Stalberg was nothing more than a secondary scorer. He did score 22 goals in the 2011-12 season, but he never got the chance to be a primary option on a team that has talented players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
As a free agent this off-season, Stalberg wanted to find a team where he could get an increased opportunity to prove himself as a top-six forward. He will get that chance with the Nashville Predators.
“I think it was pretty clear early on that I wasn’t going to stay with the ‘Hawks,” said Stalberg, who signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Predators on Friday. When asked whether he got a fair chance to be a top-six forward in Chicago, Stalberg responded by saying “yes and no,” citing the team’s heavy arsenal at forward as the reason why he didn’t get more ice time.
“I wanted to come to a team where I could have a bigger opportunity and play a little bit more,” he said. “I had a couple good years [in Chicago] but I think I can keep improving. I don’t think I’ve reached my potential.”
Stalberg averaged 14:07 of ice time last season, but that averaged dipped to 10:35 during the postseason as the Blackhawks pushed their way to a second Stanley Cup in four years. Stalberg was even a healthy scratch in a handful of playoff games.
However, the 27-year-old Swede was productive in the limited action he saw with the Blackhawks. Stalberg tallied 23 points and a plus-16 rating in a third-line role in 2012-13 and had 22 goals the season before. He can generate scoring chances with his speed and that should suit well in the Predators’ system.
“They play an up tempo game; I think that fits really well with my game with speed,” said Stalberg, who will be entering his fifth NHL season this fall.
Other than skating in a top-six role, Stalberg will likely get a chance to contribute on the Predators’ power play. Of his 52 career NHL goals, none have come on the man advantage. The Predators will be counting on Stalberg to help turn around a power play unit that ranked 17th in the NHL last season.
“We’ll see what the coaching staff wants. I think I’m more of a down-low guy and taking pucks to the net … I don’t think you’re going to see me on the point or anything like that,” said Stalberg of what his power play role could be.
As much as Stalberg is looking forward to the bigger opportunity in Nashville, the Predators are just as happy to have him on board. They hope he can help replace what they’ve lost in Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn over the last few months. They hope he can help improve an offense that finished tied for last in the league in 2012-13.
“Even with Chicago in a different role he would have been our third-leading scorer [last season],” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said Friday. “He’s a little unproven offensively. We’ve got a lot of faith that he’s going to be able to do it.”