Viktor Stalberg has jump-started his offense lately. Hes also jumped around the Blackhawks forward lines. Top line. Fourth line. And now its the checking line and the defensive responsibility that comes with it.
Its a new look for Stalberg, one that hes earned with stronger play and more offensive output lately. But hes not afraid to learn. Or ask questions.
Hes the first player Ive played with that, after every shift, hes asking me what he needs to do or what I can help him with, said Stalbergs latest linemate Bryan Bickell. Thats good to have the communication on the bench and off the ice, to have a game-plan going into games. I think its been fun for him. And hes been lighting it up big time.
Yes, Stalberg has been lighting up that score sheet lately, tallying three goals and four assists on his current four-game point streak. Hes already established a new career high in assists this season (13), and is just three goals away from his career-best 12 set last season. But Stalberg is also honing his defensive game with his latest line assignment and its helping develop his all-around game.
They stress small details here, and theyve helped me out of a lot with where to place my stick in defensive zone coverage, Stalberg said. Maybe you dont think about that (defensive game) when youre starting your pro career but I feel Im getting better at doing that. Im comfortable playing against the top lines, too.
Stalberg is learning the defensive nuances from Bickell and Dave Bolland, who certainly have enough experience in the checking-line role. Bolland said Stalberg is adapting well.
Hes seeing what its like on the checking line, going off and on, maybe getting a five-second shift instead of a 40-second shift, Bolland said. He knows what to do when he comes back in his own zone. If we can utilize his speed and get him the puck, hell be a big help to us on that third line.
The Blackhawks will still look to Stalberg for offensive production more than defense. But if he can improve his defense, and if that defensive work can lead to more offense, then its beneficial to him and the Blackhawks.
Theres that responsibility of playing against top guys that he can learn from, coach Joel Quenenville said. Theres a lot of reward playing against top guys as far as the offensive side of things. The better you check, the more time you have the puck. Whether its with Bolley or Bicks or (Michael Frolik), if hes with that group, youre committed to defensive play and youre rewarded.